When Hoosier Energy announced plans earlier this year to shutter its only coal-fired plant, the Indiana generation and transmission co-op pledged to help the nearly 200 affected employees between now and 2023, when the facility closes.
To ensure that displaced employees can land on their feet, Hoosier Energy and Indiana State University created an undergraduate certificate program to retrain workers to become meter or relay technicians or for careers in distributed generation, substation maintenance or communications.
So far, about 60 workers have expressed interest in the one-year, online Emerging Energy Technology Program, with their tuition, books and lab materials paid by Hoosier Energy. Other assistance includes job reassignments within the G&T and early retirement packages.
As distributed energy resources and storage make up a larger share of utilities’ generation, employers will need workers with relevant skills, said Chris Blunk, vice president of corporate services at the Bloomington, Indiana-based electric co-op.
“These types of jobs are necessary regardless of the future of generation,” he said. “We will always need meter, relay and field technicians, but we will also need workers to control and communicate with distributed generation.”
The certificate program consists of six online courses and a hands-on lab, co-taught by Hoosier Energy and ISU, that will provide fundamental skills in electric transmission metering, protection systems and field communications. The program started in June, and enrollment is capped at 20 students. Currently, all students come from Hoosier Energy, but the program is open to other utilities.
Current certificate student Barry Trowbridge has worked at the Merom Generating Station since 2003 and is learning about DC and AC circuits after taking refresher classes in algebra and precalculus this past summer. The straight-A student hopes a certificate will lead to a transmission job at Hoosier Energy after the plant closes.
“It’s a good program,” said Trowbridge. “And even if there’s no job available at Hoosier Energy, I can get a job at a utility or factory. No matter what, it’s worth it.”
Neslihan Alp, dean of ISU’s College of Technology, said the co-op approached the university last year about developing an online program that working professionals could complete within a year. It’s one of 13 offered by ISU in a variety of disciplines.
As technology continues to change almost overnight and pandemic restrictions force higher education to broaden online instruction, the appeal of quality certificate programs will grow, said Alp. For example, Duke Energy has approached her about setting up a similar program, she said.
Hoosier Energy announced in January that Merom Generating Station in Sullivan County will close in 2023 as part of its overall plan to diversify its generation mix to include renewable energy, natural gas and storage. The 1,000-megawatt facility came online in 1982 and is the state’s fifth-largest coal-fired plant.
In a statement, Hoosier Energy said the closure will save its 18 member co-ops $700 million and provide “a foundation for supply cost stability and predictability while reducing the company’s carbon footprint by nearly 80%.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.