Business profile: Safety first for students at Northwest Renewable Energy Institute

The new satellite campus for the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute features ladders and a simulated nacelle climbing tower in order to teach students safety techniques on their way to becoming wind technicians. Photo by Paul Valencia
The new satellite campus for the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute features ladders and a simulated nacelle climbing tower in order to teach students safety techniques on their way to becoming wind technicians. Photo by Paul Valencia

NWREI opens satellite campus in Vancouver with a simulated climbing tower

Paul Valencia
ClarkCountyToday.com

A trade school in Vancouver gives students a solid foundation to enter the wind industry, with a six-month course that includes studies in hydraulics, mechanical, electrical, rigging, and more.

The school’s top priority, though, is safety.

Today, the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute has a new, indoor facility with a modern 20-foot-tall ModTruss simulated nacelle climbing tower. Students get to feel what it is like to climb a tower, and learn how to help a co-worker in need.

“Part of being a wind technician, you’re basically a first responder for everybody,” said Thomas Bauras, an instructor at NWREI. “Most of these sites are way out in the middle of nowhere, and you have to rely on each other.”

Students learning to become wind technicians must pass safety and rescue classes in order to graduate from the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute. Photo by Paul Valencia
Students learning to become wind technicians must pass safety and rescue classes in order to graduate from the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute. Photo by Paul Valencia

The nacelle climbing tower at the school’s satellite campus off of Fruit Valley Road allows students to train “in the air” even if it is not 300 feet in the air. Students learn to use the rescue equipment.

This tower gives students an authentic taste of the challenges they will face in their green energy careers. Featuring simulated main shafts, hubs, nosecones, and over-the-edge evacuation simulators, it offers unparalleled real-world scenario training, according to a press release from the school.

The tower was built this summer and opened for its first class in September.

The Northwest Renewable Energy Institute, a trade school, opened in Vancouver in 2009. In September, it opened a satellite campus to provide even better safety training for future wind technicians. Graphic courtesy NWREI
The Northwest Renewable Energy Institute, a trade school, opened in Vancouver in 2009. In September, it opened a satellite campus to provide even better safety training for future wind technicians. Graphic courtesy NWREI

“First aid. Splinting. Bandaging. Patient management. I take them through climb training, safe access, and rescue,” Bauras said. “If someone gets hurt 300 feet in the air, how do you get them down? That’s my job, to show them how to do that safely.”

A student at NREI must be certified in safety and rescue in order to graduate.

“Hopefully they never have to use it,” Bauras said. “In the event they do have to use it, they have the confidence and the ability to get someone down safely in order to save lives.”

The simulated tower is also used to teach students rigging procedures. 

The NWREI opened in 2009, with its main campus on E. Mill Plain Blvd., to serve the increasing demand for well-trained wind turbine technicians. Prior to the satellite campus opening, the institute had a smaller training facility for climbing and safety. It was outdoors, which does not always lend itself to ideal teaching conditions. 

“Moving to an indoor facility revolutionizes our teaching approach,” said Sam Ray, an NWREI instructor. “Our students can perform full tower climbs, simulating real-world climb tests, all while sheltered from the distractions of the weather.”

The training was always good, said DJ Schmidt, president and CEO, but it is now better.

“We are shaping the future of green energy, one student at a time,” Schmidt said. “Our new campus is a testament to our unwavering commitment to producing exceptional wind turbine technicians, equipped with the skills, safety practices, and confidence needed to thrive.”

It certainly takes confidence to climb and work atop a turbine. 

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Baurus said.

Students get a feel for the real life ladders they must climb after they graduate from the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute. Photo by Paul Valencia
Students get a feel for the real life ladders they must climb after they graduate from the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute. Photo by Paul Valencia

Technicians climb 300 feet, and the tower can sway, as well. Inside the nacelle can be a tight fit, too, with a number of working components. 

The career, though, is fulfilling, Baurus said.

“I do this because I really believe this industry is something that is going to benefit us in the future,” Baurus said. “I like to say, ‘Do I think wind is the answer to all of our (energy) issues? My honest answer is no, it is not. But is it a solution to help, to make things better in the future? Absolutely.’” 

Baurus is a graduate of NWREI, as well. Now an instructor, he sees the demand in the industry and is proud of the work he and his fellow instructors perform at NWREI.

“The industry is exploding. Every year is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger. They need technicians,” Baurus said. “It’s an honor to actually take someone who has never turned a wrench before and watch them graduate. It’s an awesome feeling knowing I had a part in their life that is setting them up for a career.”

The NWREI teaches students from all over the country. The institute even has student housing. Schmidt said the NWREI would love to have more local students. 

The institute starts six classes a year, with each class taking six months. The school also helps with employment opportunities upon graduation.

For more information on the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute, go to: https://www.nw-rei.com/


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