Eight new graduates from the College of Southern Idaho’s wind energy program are facing what they didn’t expect to be a difficult task — getting a job.

Although two of the grads found jobs in the industry, the rest are still on the hunt. For recent graduate Justin Miller, it hasn’t been successful.

Miller, 35, sent out around 60 applications and received one interview, but he said there aren’t jobs to be had and his expectations of potential employers knocking down his door after graduation haven’t materialized.

The push for wind farms and wind energy education was labeled nationally as a hot job trend, but now graduates are experiencing the reality of the economy.

CSI doesn’t provide direct job placement for their graduates, but Todd Schwarz, instructional dean, said the college helps with networking opportunities and works closely with industries to develop strong ties.

CSI Wind Energy Instructor Mark Goodman said he recently talked to developers about job prospects and said CSI may just be ahead of the curve.

“We need more infrastructure up in the state of Idaho to bring more jobs,” he said, adding the proposed 425-megawatt China Mountain wind project would come in two phases, each providing around 25 to 30 jobs across 30,700 acres in northern Nevada and southern Idaho.

“I’m hoping we are positioning ourselves so when it comes time to bring that to fruition they will look to us,” Goodman said. “We’re as perplexed as our students why those jobs aren’t immediately available. Developers need to get more products up and more jobs out.”

The China Mountain project is still years away, and the influx of wind farms has led to an overabundance in energy for the current power structures. 

In May, the Associated Press reported the Bonneville Power Administration, manager about a third of the electricity in the Pacific Northwest, curtailed power generation from alternate sources due to the surplus of water flowing through hydroelectric dams. With its capacity to transmit electricity met by hydropower, BPA ordered a five-hour shutdown of all other power generation coming into its system.

Plentiful hydropower could leave the West’s burgeoning alternative energy industry vulnerable if established generation sources can meet current needs in an area that lacks the capacity to transmit excess energy elsewhere. 

Idaho Power Co. spokeswoman Stephanie McCurdy said the company is not against wind energy, but the fickle nature of wind needs to be balanced with other power sources. 

Schwarz said CSI’s wind energy program gives students relevant skills that can transfer to other jobs, and the ebbs and flows in the wind industry are based on the government’s decision to subsidize projects.

“We tell students before they sign up that this appears to be a physically rigorous occupation and the nature of the labor force is in the sticks — don’t count on living in urban areas. Many manufactures move crews from state to state,” Schwarz said. 

“It’s not like there are no opportunities, but sometimes students think that when they finish this program they will just have to wait by the phone.”

 

Amy Huddleston may be reached at ahuddleston@magicvalley.com or 735-3204.

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