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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Revolution Wind plans to begin construction of a massive wind turbine farm off the southern Rhode Island coast in 2023.

With that project in mind, the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce has been working to help train high schoolers and adults for careers in the wind energy field through its WindWinRI program.

“The chamber developed a career pathway in offshore wind four years ago and the program that we created an established is called WindWinRI and through that program we’ve trained dozens of adults on offshore wind training opportunities, such as working at heights and sea survival and offshore wind transportation,” NK Chamber Executive Director Kristin Urbach said.

Urbach said through those efforts, the chamber and her began to notice the workforce available was aging out and two and a half years ago developed the nation’s first and so far only high school offshore wind high school certificate, which has since been adopted by four Rhode Island high schools: North Kingstown, Exeter-West Greenwich, Block Island and Charles E. Shea High School in Pawtucket.

As a natural extension of those certification programs, Urbach said, she partnered with Midwest-based wind power curriculum developer KidWind to their bring national and regional wind turbine competition to Rhode Island, the first New England state to do so.

“What KidWind has done is they’ve made a virtual competition where it’s a simulation, so the students work in a simulation lab to develop a wind turbine and place it on wind farms,” Urbach said, before they then present to judges who determine their placing.

“The top two teams will then be eligible to compete in the national competition in June,” Urbach said.

The chamber was initially set to host the contest at CCRI with all four schools competing, but the contest was called off due to COVID-19. This year they were able to host the contest virtually with three of the four high schools; Exeter-West Greenwich, Block Island and Shea, fielding teams.

The teams competed on their wind turbine simulations last Friday and on Monday the winners were announced during a virtual ceremony, with Exeter-West Greenwich taking home top honors, while the two teams from Shea took home second and third place respectively and Block Island received honorable mentions.

“When I heard that we had won first place, I was so very proud of my students,” Exeter-West Greenwich science teacher Amy Biagioni-Chmura said. “They worked incredibly hard, not only on the simulation, but on learning about wind theory, deriving Betz Limit, and researching the environmental and economical pros and cons of offshore wind energy.”

In the two and half years since the program was initiated, Biagioni-Chmura said she’s noticed the positive impact it had on her students.

“This program has greatly benefited my students,” Biagioni-Chmura said. “They now have a knowledge base and skill set that is unique to a very small population of students, but applicable to a diverse set of fields. Participation in this program has also helped students solidify plans to go into the engineering field, as they have now had both theoretical and hands-on experience to make an informed decision.”

State officials have taken notice, such as Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who spoke at the virtual ceremony Monday.

“This event is such an exciting look into Rhode Island’s future,” Gorbea said. “We have our state’s emerging leaders gaining valuable experience in the field of renewable energy, which is going to be a vital part of our economy and infrastructure going forward.”

KidWind Founder and Director Michael Arquin also spoke, praising the efforts of the high schoolers as well as the chamber for bringing the contest to the Ocean State.

“There are 800 students who are competing in the National KidWind Simulation Challenge,” Arquin said. “To date, some of the Rhode Island students have been ranked in the top 10 of this competition. Many thanks to the teachers and students and to the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce’s WindWinRI program for hosting Rhode Island’s first High School Wind Turbine competition. We hope that these teams, who all qualified, will continue to compete in our National KidWind Challenge in June.”

For Urbach, having this program is crucial to the success of RI’s offshore wind future.

“(It’s) crucial because we don’t have an abundance of talent right now who could enter the field. Therefore, it’s critical that we train the students for these jobs that are just around the corner,” Urbach said. “They’re starting to build the wind farms next year. They’ve received site approval for many of them, I think it’s 13 of them on the Eastern shoreline there, so it’s really critical that we train these kids and continue to provide trainings for the adults, because what we found is with the trainings is that they are training for the Global Wind Organization (GWO) International standards for the adults and that is a transferable skill set.”

In the future, she hopes to see this program continue to grow and spread both within the state and nationwide.

“I hope it generates interest and excitement,” Urbach said. “The students have been thrilled to be a part of this and so by hosting this contest, more people are aware of the offshore wind opportunities and it’s something tangible. It’s something they’re experiencing hands on, so I would think it would be amazing.”

She’d also envisions a bright future for wind turbine competitions.

“We keep thinking about the robotics contest and remember when those first started, they started small and it’s very similar with the wind turbine competitions,” Urbach said. “We see that this will just continue to grow and generate and build excitement.”

For more info on the WindWinRI program, visit their website, windwinri.com.

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