NORFOLK, Neb. — The wind energy program at a Nebraska community college is supporting a growing industry by preparing students to take care of wind turbines.

The program at Northeast Community College in Norfolk is the only one in the state that offers an associate’s degree of applied science in wind energy, the Norfolk Daily News reported ( ).

Funds for the expansion came from the Nebraska Department of Education and a USDA Department of Energy green energy grant.

As part of the program, students operate and maintain a Micon 108 wind turbine. They also gain hands-on experience with three other turbines in a shop setting.

The program’s popularity runs in waves, said Shanelle Grudzinski, who oversees the program, because it’s a fairly new industry. There are also challenges that come with being a wind energy technician, she said.

“We find students who come into the program and then step out because they realize they’re either afraid of confined spaces, they’re afraid of heights, that type of scenario,” she said.

Students must also be fairly physically fit to perform the work, Grudzinski said.

Since 2011, more than 60 students have completed the program. Of the 12 students who graduated last year, 11 are employed either as wind energy technicians or in related electrical fields.

Currently, there are seven freshmen and 10 sophomores in the program.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for wind turbine service technicians is expected to grow significantly nationwide through 2024. And primed for that growth is northeast Nebraska, where several large wind farms are located. There are also some under development, including Prairie Grande, which is expected to be the largest one in the state with 200 turbines on 54,000 acres near O’Neill.

Information from: Norfolk Daily News,