North Dakota's new boom: wind energy

Published May 15, 2019, by MPR News -- Link to article in print and audio format

Story by Paul Huttner

Want a steady job that can pay between $50,000 and $70,000 annually after a year or two of school?

Try moving to North Dakota and working as a wind energy technician.

As the state's wind energy industry grows, graduates of one- and two-year wind energy technician programs are finding jobs quickly, said Jay Johnson, director of the wind energy technician program at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, N.D.

"Every student who really seeks a job gets a job," Johnson said. Wind energy companies even come to classrooms to try convincing students to pick their companies.

Johnson describes wind energy technicians' job duties simply: "They make electricity." They operate and maintain turbines, and they're the ones who climb high to the top of the towers to work.

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The state recently known for its oil boom is also full of clean power.

Wind accounts for just over 3,000 megawatts of energy annually in North Dakota, Johnson said. That's about a quarter of the state's electricity needs.

The state's moves toward wind power have been swift. Just a decade ago, Johnson said, there was a little more than 1,000 megawatts of clean energy produced in the state each year.

Even oil and drilling companies use clean energy, especially from wind, to power their rigs, Johnson said.

It appears for economic reasons, he said, "and like all businesses, people are looking for the lowest cost input."

Hear an interview with Johnson on the audio player above.