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Published: 4/19/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Union teaches turbine work

Technicians converge on Rossford center

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Instructor Nate Eaton, left, a Local 8 member, notes the finish time of Derrick Martin of Norwalk, center, as instructor Ray Struffolino, another Local 8 member, removes weight added for the climb. Instructor Nate Eaton, left, a Local 8 member, notes the finish time of Derrick Martin of Norwalk, center, as instructor Ray Struffolino, another Local 8 member, removes weight added for the climb.
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The test had been only a few minutes long, but to Jermayne Stanley, a 15-year journeyman electrician from Cincinnati, it felt like a lifetime — one that might end prematurely.

On the first morning of a week-long class to become certified to safely work on large wind turbines, Mr. Stanley and 10 others were given up to nine minutes to climb and descend an enclosed 60-foot training tower three times, carrying up to 50 pounds in safety equipment and simulated tools.

Although he finished the task in 5 minutes, 48 seconds, Mr. Stanley was still physically crushed more than an hour later: sick to his stomach, unable to collect his thoughts, and even unable, at one point, to get up off the concrete floor of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee center in Rossford. “Back when I was younger, that would have been a whole lot easier,” the 39-year-old Mr. Stanley said as he slowly regained his composure.

For the last year, journeymen electricians and fourth and fifth-year apprentices from across Ohio and from as far away as Rhode Island have traveled to IBEW Local 8’s campus in Rossford to take the class that, once completed, certifies them to safely work on the nation’s growing number of wind farms.

And although it doesn’t guarantee them a job during what has been one of the worst construction downturns in decades, the certification — available from one of just four such training centers in the nation — can give the program’s graduates a competitive advantage and open up job opportunities.

At least that’s what Thomas Clark of Englewood, Ohio, is hoping. A journeyman electrician since 1974, Mr. Clark was laid off last year after nine years of continuous work. After passing the test in just over five minutes — “My arms are numb right now,” he said after it was over — he said green-energy jobs are his best hope to keep working steadily for the next several years.

“I want to make myself as marketable as I can,” Mr. Clark said. “There are windmill farms going up all over.”

Dave Wellington, director of the Toledo electrical apprenticeship and training committee, said he and others with the center began studying a plan to bring a green-energy training program to metro Toledo five years ago. Those plans were assisted by $420,000 in federal and state stimulus funds that have helped pay for a working wind turbine nearby.

A 60-foot tower at the Electrical Workers' center in Rossford is used in the training. 
A 60-foot tower at the Electrical Workers' center in Rossford is used in the training.
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In addition, the committee built the 60-foot training tower and assists those who come to take the class. Since it began one year ago, Mr. Wellington said, nearly 500 men and women have received the special wind-tower certification in climbing, cable rescue, and high-voltage cable splicing.

“This is a case where we’re providing this training, and the workers are going immediately to a job site and applying these skills,” he said.

The ongoing training has a stimulative effect on the local economy as well. Many of the program’s graduates over the last year have come from out of town, meaning that during their week in metro Toledo, they are staying in local hotels and eating in local restaurants, Mr. Wellington said.

Tom LaFountain, a project manager with electrical contractor GEM Inc., said the extra training electricians receive in the certification program makes those workers more valuable.

“A large turbine, or even one of those smaller community ones — that’s still a very, very large investment for somebody, and you want the best people you can possibly have working on that for you,” he said.

The 60-foot climbing tower is just a fraction of the size of a full-sized turbine, some of which are up to 300 feet tall and can generate up to 3 megawatts of electricity. But it does provide a good taste of what it’s like to work inside one of the massive devices. The climb, done first, is make or break for some — two of the 11 electricians who began yesterday were unable to complete the climbing test and went home.

Similar training is provided in Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska.

Later classes are being developed that will focus on how to safely work on and maintain the spinning giants once they’re built.

Those classes will work on the 100-kilowatt wind turbine that was installed in February at the local center and now provides supplemental electricity to the Lime City Road facility, Mr. Wellington said.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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