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The BBC reports today that state supported and practical steps are being taken to train the young solar and wind power engineers of the future. The guys who install and maintain wind turbines and solar panels.

In Tehachapi, California, it can feel like four seasons in one day. In this remote corner between the Sierra Nevada and the Mojave Desert, it can feel like summer one hour, winter the next. And the weather is propelled by strong winds that man has put to use – entire hillsides are covered by wind turbines. This is a pioneering place for the US’s wind power industry and it is where engineers of the future learn their trade.

Massive expansion

The BBC joined some young students from nearby Cerro Coso Community College as an industry professional guided them on their first climb of an 80ft (27m) wind turbine tower.

It is part of a course where they learn the mechanical, practical and safety skills needed to maintain and fix wind turbines. They have each paid around $1,000 (£684): for young men barely out of their teens that is a lot, but they believe it will pay off with stable jobs and salaries that can start at up to three times the national minimum wage.

And the jobs will be there. The economic stimulus package recently passed by the US Congress includes money to make people’s homes more energy efficient.

National benchmark

It is part of a much bigger plan: President Obama wants to spend $150bn over 10 years on a massive expansion of renewable energy. He says it will cut the country’s dependance on foreign oil, create five million “green-collar” jobs and help tackle climate change.

But training courses like the one in Tehacahapi are rare. There is no national standard for wind engineers in the US and on this course a private company is working with the community college to try to establish a national benchmark.

Mike Messier, Vice-President of Training for Airstreams Renewables Inc, says the waiting list for their course is up to three months and there are not enough courses to meet the predicted demand for wind engineers.

A hundred miles away, at East Los Angeles Skills Centre, solar panel installation classes are over-subscribed. Some in this class are among California’s burgeoning jobless. The state’s unemployment rate is 10.5% and rising, higher than the national average.

Most of the students are ex-gang members with prison time, looking for a new start. It is a good time for people like them: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently launched California Green Corps, which will use federal stimulus money to help train at-risk young people for green jobs. Whatever their background, all have hope they will walk into jobs that pay well.

Solar and wind power are both key to President Obama’s aim: that America should get a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It is an ambitious goal, but making sure the country has the right skills even to attempt it is the first step.

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