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Front Page » October 3, 2006 » Focus on Energy » Energy center represents years of multi-agency planning
Published 3,293 days ago

Energy center represents years of multi-agency planning

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Emery County Progress Editor

Politicians, industry officials and workforce professionals celebrate the opening of the Western Energy Training Center. The center is located at the mouth of Indian Canyon on U.S. Highway 191.

Castle Valley welcomed the opening of the Western Energy Training Center last week with a grand opening and "cable cutting" on Sept. 28. The Southeastern Utah Energy Producers Association also hosted their symposium in conjunction with the event.

Steve Burge, director of the energy center at the Castle Valley Economic Development Summit last week where he gave an introduction to the training center and the history of the project.

Burge said the center has been a team effort. The effort began a couple of years ago with a meeting. The idea was to build a facility to train people in energy related fields. The resurgence of the energy industries has been a driving force in the effort.

"Energy drives the economy. People want these things, they want hot water and cars, etc. This has been a community effort between education and the workforce. It has been a real collaboration and that best describes this project. This project has come from a dream to a reality. Coal and power create legacy jobs with good salaries. Coal is king. It's who we are. With the great growth in coal bed methane, ConocoPhillips is the largest tax payer in Carbon County," said Burge.

Burge pointed out the need to diversify while also remembering that the energy industry is invaluable to the Castle Valley.

Sam Quigley converses with symposium attendees in front of the WETC's new facility. He stressed that "Safety begins with training."

Burge told a story of Brett Harvey from Consol who was trying to find investors in California for his company. A man told him, "This is California, we don't do coal here. We use electricity."

Burge said people take electricity for granted without realizing the path it takes to reach their homes. He stressed that energy production starts at the ground level and ends up in homes and lives.

Burge said that those who later became supporteers of the energy training center searched for the commonalities between gas and coal and invited all the entities to meet at College of Eastern Utah for the first time. Power, gas, coal, transportation, small business and the CEU president all climbed on board. The results were nothing short of amazing, said Burge. He referenced a quote which he stated that the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

"Change is rapid. Many in the energy industries are at retirement age. We must be prepared in this high energy world. With two national discoveries in our region with the Nine Mile-Tavaputs Plateau and the Richfield oil discovery, our area, the Rockies, is at the forefront in energy," said Burge.

He pointed out the demand for workers is much more than the supply of trained workers. Employers cannot keep up. Recruitment must be done on a regional basis. People need to know that Carbon and Emery counties are great places to settle.

Shell Oil Company recently paid $50 million for leases in our area. Some acres are going for thousands when they used to be only a few dollars. Projections may exceed the production of the Drunkards Wash area, which was the find of the '90s.

The demand for coal in developing countries will double by 2020. "The people who say get rid of coal, don't know what they're talking about," said Burge.

Onlookers admire one of sculptor Gary Prazen's early sculptors before symposium speakers where introduced by Southeastern Utah Energy Producers Association President Rick Olsen

Hence the need for the training center facility. CEU was given a $2.7 million grant by the U.S. Department of Labor and the college obtained $1.1 million from the Utah legislature.

In July, the purchase was finalized on the Willow Creek facility. Three buildings and 271 acres with water rights comprise the facility.

So far, there are six staff members for the training center. Courses are already underway and businesses are using the facility for training current employees. The primary goal is to train workers for careers in the energy industry; to partner with industry to provide training and certifications.

Burge stressed the great bargain which the board of directors was able to negotiate regarding the training facility. The buildings contain 42 offices, a warehouse and a shop. "It is a instant campus," said Burge.

Burge couldn't contain his excitement when he talked about the instructor, Bob Topping who has been hired at the facility. Topping worked at a training center in Wilsonville, Ore. That facility trained 400 linemen in one week, not only providing training, but serving each student lunch.

Topping became a specialist in training. His expertise at the new facility gives credibility to the training center. Topping believes in new ways of hands-on training. Burge described Topping as a master educator who will be an incredible asset to the center.

The center seeks to maintain a partnership and one goal is to be responsive to the needs of the local communities. Industry, education and community will work together in the center in what Burge said were ways which have never been seen. The center will be an economic tool for the community.

"We have a moral obligation to develop people and the economy. The power lies in E 3 employment, education and economic development. It is our goal to stimulate the communities through economic development. Industry would tell us in education, 'You're not producing people who help us much.' With this new power we can multiply resources and get somewhere. A collaborative source," said Burge.

Burge pointed to $50,000 in donated time has been given to bring the training center where it is today. The committee has been meeting once each month and active sub-committees the center. Supporters hope it will be an industry-driven provider of high-quality workforce training focused on current and future energy needs. They said it will further respond to regional energy industry workforce needs and provide state of the art training. Surrounding communities may benefit as the center attracts new people and workers. The worforce will also see growth as the the center works to advance the quaility of training which workers receive. And finally, the center will document the knowledge of retiring workers and preserve it for educational purposes.

College of Eastern Utah art was displayed prominently at the 2006 Southeastern Utah Energy Producers Association's banquet. The event titled "Dining in Diversity" was held at the Price Elks Lodge.

Burge envisions the training center bringing in both tactical and strategic workers who are innovative and experienced. One worry in the energy community is when the older workers retire, trained individuals aren't there to fill their shoes. The training center will help narrow this gap in experience between workers. It will train workers to know what to do next and not always be asking what to do.

Finally, the center will seek to offer instruction ranging from simple to advanced.

As part of its plan, the center must be self-sustaining by 2008.

In the future, training will include hands-on training in climbing poles, hooking wires, reassembling equipment and other skills. Students will take classes and work for degrees. There will be master instructors at the facility. The training for technical degrees will be the same as in other states so workers can move into any job.

As the center fills up for training and brings in workers from out of the area, supporters expect the local motels to fill up and the restaurants to see growth. They say the training center is a potential magnet for growth and development with the demand for energy high.

As it builds its curriculum, the center will offer courses ranging from certifications lasting a few weeks to training that can lead to associate's and bachelor's degrees over time.

In order to accomplish this, the training center will not operate on a semester system. Classes will be offered on the timetable required by the industry.

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