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BTC hopes to turn blue collars into environmentally friendly color

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
February 22, 2009
— Is the future green?

Saving energy, saving money and saving the planet were hot topics before the election of President Barack Obama.


Now these ideas are gaining even more credence with Obama’s push for energy independence and green jobs.


But where do we find the workers with the skills to make it happen?


Blackhawk Technical College is positioning itself to answer that question.


BTC President Eric Larson said BTC officials have been discussing the possibilities for eight to 10 months, but he is aware that Obama’s initiatives could further boost the call for workers trained in “green” technologies.


“We just see it all around us, and we think we ought to get engaged in it,” Larson said.


Obama has proposed spending $150 billion over 10 years to decrease reliance on imported oil, reduce air pollution and to create 5 million jobs.


The plan has its critics. Some question whether the investment would yield that many new jobs. But there’s no doubt the alternative-energy industry was on the rise even before Obama came along.


The Obama plan not only calls for increases in wind and solar power but also weatherizing homes, building “greener” buildings, and upgrading the electrical grid.


Speaking of that grid, BTC recently upgraded its electrical power distribution program, with the help of Alliant Energy.


And when it comes to wind energy, BTC already has most of the components of a degree in wind turbine maintenance, Larson said. That includes programs in power distribution, machine tools and industrial maintenance.


In the wind

Details are being worked out for a cooperative wind turbine program with Highland Community College in Freeport, Ill., Larson said. The idea is that a student could fulfill many of the requirements at BTC and then finish the program at Highland.


Highland recently established an associate-degree program to support a nearby field of the giant turbines. The company that owns that field—EcoEnergy—has been looking to expand into Wisconsin, including Rock County.


Larson said he’s been in touch with EcoEnergy and has been assured that BTC will be the company’s first contact for educating workers if the company expands north of the state line.


BTC also is revamping its landscaping/turf management program, teaching students how to be environmentally sensitive as they tend to sod and soil. The program is now called Green Industry Technician.


There might be more to come.


“We are looking at all forms of alternative, renewable fuels as a new frontier for us to be getting involved in—photovoltaic, wind, ethanol/biomass, solar—the whole gamut,” Larson said.


Larson said he recently dropped off an idea at the offices of Forward Janesville: What if the Janesville General Motors plant were converted to build those massive towers that hold the wind turbines?


Larson said BTC would be happy to step in—just as it did for many GM workers—and train the workers such a plant would require.



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