ISU Magazine

Volume 40 | Number 1 | Fall 2009

Finding and Refining Power Systems

Graduates of the Energy Systems Instrumentation and Controls Engineering Technology program, Ethan Browning and Devin Mecham, explain their class project to Andy Klein from Idaho National Laboratory.

Photo by ISU Photographic Services/Julie Hillebrant

Finding and Refining Power Systems

Fall 2009 Issue | By Angela Askey

Soaking up some rays, catching a breeze and enjoying the water all sound like something relaxing to do on a weekend.

At Idaho State University’s Energy Systems Technology and Education Center (ESTEC), these resources mean a whole lot more. Students at ESTEC are training for careers in wind, solar and hydroelectric power as part of a collaborative effort between Idaho State University's College of Technology, Idaho National Laboratory, private industry and the non-profit agency Partners for Prosperity.

ESTEC was established in early 2007 with more than $2.5 million in federal grant funding.

Chad Christensen signals in front of an instrument during the ESTEC grand opening.

“ESTEC offers a unique approach to educating students by providing the specific knowledge and skills needed in electrical power generation” said R. Scott Rasmussen, ESTEC’s Executive Director. “The skills requirements have been developed in partnership with energy utilities and vendors to assure that program graduates enter the workforce with the precise skills required by industry and are ready to be productive energy systems employees.”

In November 2008, officials opened the newly renovated 22,000-square-foot laboratory and classroom facilities for ESTEC on the ISU campus in Pocatello. The well-instrumented, integrated laboratory setting allows students in the Energy Systems degree programs to work alongside each other just as they would in industry. Students work in a hands-on laboratory and participate in opportunities for applied industrial research. In the lab they have access to the one-of-a-kind Motor-Operated Valve (MOV) Actuator load simulation and test stand. The test stand was instrumental in establishing the current Nuclear Regulatory Commission MOV surveillance and inspection criteria. It was recently transferred from the INL and ISU College of Engineering to ESTEC.

INL has provided engineering and subject matter expertise to set up the equipment and prepare it for continued use as a research tool and to establish a teaching resource for students. In addition, Wind Engineering Technology students have access to wind turbines received as donations this past summer by G3, LLC, an Idaho-based wind power company.

Students are trained on a variety of electrical generation sources, including fossil, nuclear and renewable.

ESTEC's curriculum has been validated by the power-generating industry and industry support organizations. The Energy Systems Instrumentation and Control Engineering Technology curriculum, reviewed by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) Pilot Program, is recognized in the NEI 09-04 Uniform Curriculum Toolkit as the recommended curriculum for Instrumentation and Controls technicians. The tool kit has been developed to assist Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program participants with their implementation process. It contains action plans, templates, and tools identified through the pilot program.

“ESTEC will be a cornerstone of Idaho State University’s growing role in educating skilled technicians to operate modern energy systems,” said ISU President Arthur C. Vailas. “Just as Idaho is playing an increasingly important role in energy research, ISU is poised to educate the workforce that science, industry and government will need to succeed.”

ESTEC is not only for those seeking a college education. As part of the grant funding, the program has created a curriculum for elementary and secondary students. The newest activity includes Young Einsteins, a science experience day. Developed with assistance from Partners for Prosperity, Idaho Department of Labor, and ISU Tech Prep, students, educators and parents learn about energy, career possibilities and the educational opportunities offered at ESTEC.

Along with training the next generation of energy workers, ESTEC has had a positive effect on the businesses who have supported the program from the beginning.

John Wheeler, Manager of Workforce Planning, Entergy Nuclear, said the program has impacted his business. Entergy Nuclear is the second largest nuclear generator in the United States, and provides power for 2.7 million utility customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

“We at Entergy are proud to be part of starting a program that was one of the first in the nation to focus on education and training for energy industry technicians. The partnership is a unique blend of industry, the academic community, state and national government, and non-profits. This diverse set of partners has encouraged innovation, unique problem-solving, and inventive thinking that has helped the program grow and flourish.

“The experience helped us ‘learn the ropes’ of forming similar partnerships with federal grant funding to accelerate workforce development for the energy sector in other regions across the country — in the south, Midwest, and northeast areas.”

Enrollment at ESTEC is full this fall, and its students and graduates are working toward meeting tomorrow’s growing energy needs as technicians working on the next generation of electrical components and systems.

Programs of Study Offered at ESTEC:

  • Energy Systems Instrumentation and Controls Engineering Technology prepares students to work with equipment measuring the operating parameters of a power plant, control systems that operate the plant and keep it running safely, and communications and data equipment used to monitor plant equipment.
  • Energy Systems Electrical Engineering Technology prepares students to work with large motors, generators, protective relaying and other high voltage/high current electrical equipment and the interconnecting wiring and control circuits.
  • Energy Systems Mechanical Engineering Technology will prepare students in the mechanical portions of the plant. They will work on turbines, pumps, piping and valves in power systems that often produce more than 250,000 horsepower.
  • Energy Systems Wind Engineering Technology focuses on the construction and maintenance of wind turbines and prepares student for a career in this growing energy industry.

Graduates of these programs are expected to earn at least $50,000 per year immediately after graduation. Energy systems careers also offer stability. Companies such as Idaho Power, Nordic Windpower, and Ridgeline Energy, LLC are examples of green power employers available within the state. Additional opportunities with geothermal, solar, biomass, landfill gas and municipal waste exist as well.

Within the next five years, electrical power generation will be facing a critical workforce shortage of engineering technicians. Technicians are responsible for the construction, assembly, maintenance, and repair of boilers, reactors, turbines, generators and other electrical control and mechanical equipment. Because of an aging workforce in the field, the electrical power generation industry could lose more than 50 percent of its workers by 2012. In addition, growth of generation capacity is expected to be 50 percent over the next 35 years. New generation facilities will require engineering technicians.