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No better place: Wind and solar company opens training site in Bloomington

Woman in flower-patterned blouse speaks with two men in suits in front of solar panels
Eric Stock
Sandhya Ganapathy, left, EDP Renewables North American CEO, speaks with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, center, and Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilwambe on Thursday during a tour of the company's new training facility.

The company that built McLean County’s first wind farm has opened its first technician training facility in Bloomington.

Houston-based EDP Renewables operates seven wind farm projects in central and northern Illinois, and more than 400 wind and solar farms across the country.

New hires for the company at any of its renewable energy sites across the United States and Canada will now come to Bloomington for two weeks of training.

Man in polo short pointing to long mechanical tube placed on table
Eric Stock
Operations training coordinator for EDP Renewables North America Early Deloach explains during a tour how solar panels mechanically rotate each day to receive direct sunlight.

EDP spent $2.5 million renovating an old warehouse and former brewery on G.E. Road to house the facility.

"When we are thinking of location for this facility, we could not think of a better place. This is a place which has allowed us to grow so much in the country and this is most appropriate for technicians to start here,” EDP Renewables North American CEO Sandhya Ganapathy said at Thursday's official opening.

Company officials said the site is ideal because of the proximity to its seven operational wind farms in Illinois, and its regional office in Chicago. EDP expects to provide training to more than 100 new hires per year at the Bloomington site.

Rob Mason, EDP’s head of learning and development, said there's an advantage to hosting the training in one location.

“We are able to standardize all of our approaches at one facility and the opportunity is that then the technicians travel across the country to their respective site they’ll be working on, they’ll be ready to go,” he said.

Man in polo shirt raises hand over table with yellow hard hats as two men and one woman look on.
Eric Stock
Operations training coordinator for EDP Renewables North America Early Deloach leads a tour in which he explains how the company's technicians are trained to climb wind towers.

The training will include a mix of classroom and hands-on instruction, said Mason, adding the first seven days will focus on safety basics, including first aid and fire prevention for both solar and wind technicians. He said the final three days will include more operational training, such as how to repair motorized assemblies that rotate for best positioning toward the sun. Wind technicians also will learn how to scale wind towers that are typically 260 feet off the ground.

During a tour of the facility on Thursday, Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said at facilities like this signal a wave of innovation in renewable energy during a time of record heat caused by climate-warming greenhouse gases. Durbin said the technology also gives the Midwest a chance to thrive in the modern economy.

“It’s a bright optimistic, positive future ahead of us. Rust Belt? Like hell it is. It is the future belt of America, right here in the Midwest,” Durbin said.

Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe sees the training facility as a gift to the next generation.

“[It’s] an invitation to embrace the challenges and rewards that await. It will serve as a launch pad of knowledge where bright individuals can learn, experiment and innovate,” said Mwilambwe.

EDP Renewables put Twin Groves I near Ellsworth in eastern McLean County in 2007. Twin Groves II opened a short time later. In 2019, EDP started operating the Bright Stalk wind farm near Chenoa.

Ganapathy said EDP plans to nearly double its energy capacity in the next four to five years.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.