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Chinese Company Tries To Win Over Wyoming Wind Workers


The wind energy industry is growing around the world, so has global competition to make the turbines that harness wind energy. This is playing out in Wyoming, a big fossil fuel state with some of the best wind in the country, not unlike our own BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music. A turbine maker out of China wants a piece of all this wind and is trying to win over workers in Wyoming through free training. Wyoming Public Radio's Madelyn Beck reports.

MADELYN BECK, BYLINE: The community center in Rawlins, Wyo., is a musty, older building with faded carpets and linoleum floors. About a hundred people - mostly older men - have shown up to hear about the free training Chinese company Goldwind is offering. Goldwind Americas' CEO David Halligan says he needs people to build and maintain turbines, people with experience.

DAVID HALLIGAN: Where they've had to work in situations where there's safety or mechanical or electrical skills required.

BECK: He's talking about industries like coal mining or oil drilling. Lots of ex-fossil fuel workers here lost their jobs during the recent busts. Others just want more work security, like mechanic William Cardenas.

WILLIAM CARDENAS: With the oil and gas field, it goes up and down, and there's nothing stable. But it seems like this would be a good opportunity and a good experience.

BECK: Wyoming is the country's largest coal producer, but energy analyst Rob Godby of the University of Wyoming tells the crowd coal's future is looking dim. He says this is mostly thanks to cheap natural gas and energy efficiencies, but wind is growing - fast.

ROB GODBY: The easiest thing to compare this to is computers. If you think about PCs 10 years ago and what they could do, for the same price now, you can get so much more.

BECK: Godby says wind prices have come down so far they beat out gas or coal.

GODBY: This is the cheapest form of generation to build.

BECK: Now, workers who get the free training would still have to be retrained if they're hired, but trainer Bryan Boatright says the two-week course will give them an edge.

BRYAN BOATRIGHT: Again, what is it? Foot in the door.

BECK: This could also be Goldwind's foot in the door to Wyoming as the Chinese company expands a mainly Asia-based market. The company is competing against Vestas of Denmark and U.S.-based General Electric, both of which are already established in the U.S. In fact, they are both in the running for a Wyoming project that's slated to be the biggest wind farm in North America - Goldwind isn't.

LAWRENCE WILLEY: Well, I mean, they're an underdog right now, right?

BECK: That's Lawrence Willey, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Wyoming. He worked 15 years in wind. He sees Goldwind's free training as a good move.

WILLEY: This is a smart way to spend money - helps people. It introduces them to the technology and to Goldwind a company. And it will help the region.

BECK: Goldwind does have a contract to supply over 700 wind turbines for a Wyoming project. Next, it plans to take its offer of free training to Texas. For NPR News, I'm Madelyn Beck in Laramie.

SIMON: And that story comes to us from Inside Energy, a public media collaboration that's focused on America's energy issues. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Madelyn Beck
Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. She's from Montana but has reported everywhere from North Dakota to Alaska to Washington, D.C. Her last few positions included covering energy resources in Wyoming and reporting on agriculture/rural life issues in Illinois.