GHC’s energy tech program is growing

Grays Harbor College graduated 11 students from its Energy Technology program this year, the most yet in the program’s three years.

The two-year program offers an associate’s degree and is designed to prepare students for a variety of energy-related jobs. Much of the curriculum is delivered by interactive television from Centralia College, GHC’s partner college in the program.

So far, two of the newest Energy Tech graduates and one from last year’s class have been hired by TransAlta in Centralia as plant equipment operators, according to GHC. In addition, three alums from the 2011 class recently earned their bachelors degree from The Evergreen State College and one of them, Sarah Bowles, is now working as the energy programs manager for Lewis County Economic Development Council.

Students have the option of enrolling in two additional classes in the power system operator field to prepare for the required North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) certification exam. The Grays Harbor College Foundation, along with the foundation at Centralia College, offers scholarships to help top students pay the $600 exam fee.

Three members of the 2013 Energy Tech class at GHC had previously lost their jobs at Grays Harbor Paper when it closed in 2011.

Aberdeen resident, Robert Firth, 49, received a scholarship and was also honored as one of the GHC’s Top Scholars of the Class of 2013. He is transferring to Central Washington University where he will pursue a bachelor’s degree in information technology related specifically to the energy industry.

“I think that losing my job was maybe one of the best gifts that I have ever been given,”said Firth, who added that because of his instruction at GHC he feels his education pay him back “100-fold.”

Another student, Patrick Strode, 35, was previously laid off from his job as a machine operator at Grays Harbor Paper and is one of the graduates going to work for TransAlta. A single father of two who lives in Elma who previously worked as an aviation electrician in the military, said he selected the Energy Tech program to align with his interests and help his family get a new start.

Other jobs in the energy tech field include entry level utility worker, power plant control operator assistant, apprentice power plant or substation eletrician, power plant mechanic, power plant equipment operator, power plant technician, millwright, groundman, apprentice lineman, wind turbine technician, energy auditor and energy manager.

The Energy Tech program is recognized by regional energy employers such as Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation Grand Coulee, Chelan PUD, Portland General Electric, Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light, Tacoma Power, as well as TransAlta.

A new Energy Technology program begins in the fall. To register or receive more information, contact Program Adviser Nancy Estergard, at 360-538-4012.