Over the past decade, wind power capacity in the United States has more than tripled. With an operating capacity of over 110 gigawatts as of Q3 2020, wind energy is the largest renewable energy source in the country today, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Like any fast-growing industry, the U.S. wind industry requires a skilled, multidisciplinary workforce to continue to lead the way to a sustainable energy future. Universities and technical programs across the country are increasingly preparing the next generation of engineers, developers, and technicians for their roles in the growing field, and Invenergy colleagues are eager to help train and prepare this generation of industry leaders.

“The worldview of the current generation of students has shifted,” says Professor Edwin Clamp of James Madison University in Harrisburg, Virginia. Professor Clamp teaches an undergraduate business course that provides students with a deep dive into the clean energy industry. “Previously, students were interested in the highest-paying industries, but the current generation wants to balance that against something that shares their values. Wind energy and renewables are the gold standards in exemplifying these values.”

James Madison University (JMU) is one of a growing number of universities that offers educational opportunities in the area of renewables and wind energy specifically. Brad Romano, Senior Manager of Environmental Compliance and Strategy (ECS) at Invenergy, and colleagues John Aquilino, John Wojcikiewicz, and Jon Micah Goeller recently spoke with students in these courses about wildlife and ecological planning as an integral part of renewable project development. The students will be able to apply this insight to the project they’ve developed for the 2021 Collegiate Wind Competition (CWC), an annual event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Each year, teams of undergrad students participate in one of CWC’s two competitions: designing, building and testing a wind turbine or citing and developing a hypothetical wind project. The JMU team is one of 13 teams chosen to compete in 2021 and was tasked with developing a theoretical wind farm in South Dakota. The final versions of their presentations are due in May and will be showcased at the 2021 competition, which is scheduled to take place June 1-7, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The JMU team has already competed five times in the CWC, placing first in the project development category in 2020 and first in business development in 2018.

Professor Clamp says the competition is a great way to expose students to the complexities of project development. “South Dakota has a small population, a lot of indigenous land, and poor grid connection,” he says of the JMU team’s 2021 project. "It makes for a complicated case study for them.”

Each competition teaches new lessons and helps students develop the skillsets they’ll need on the job, Romano says.

“The professors take a ‘guided discovery’ approach. They’ll help students through the process, but students take lead in developing questions, analyzing data gaps, and figuring out how to get the answers they need for the project.”

Though currently held virtually on account of the pandemic, previous JMU classes have been able to take field trips to Invenergy’s Beech Ridge Energy Center. Clamp said he hopes these visits will be able to resume in the future so students can see firsthand what it takes to keep a clean energy facility up and running.

“We want to cultivate relationships between students and industry and deepen these connections, and Invenergy has been great about working with us,” says Clamp.

In response to the interest in environmental regulations, Romano crafted an outline for the class that provides an overview of how these laws work and how the industry incorporates site assessments, best practices, and permitting into project designs. These practices ensure regulatory guidelines are met or exceeded, but also important is industry engagement in environmental research, Romano said, such Invenergy’s work with American Wind Wildlife Institute’s (AWWI) Wind Wildlife Research Fund.

Invenergy’s ECS team remains on call for any insight the JMU classes may need and is looking forward to seeing the finished presentations in June.

“Projects take years to develop, but these classes and this competition gives them a chance to encounter real-world issues in a way you can’t get in a textbook,” Romano said. “It’s a unique opportunity with incredible value for students interested in working in the renewable industry.”

Check out the Invenergy Blog to learn more about Invenergy colleagues’ involvement with the CWC as judges and participants.