First Wind scholarship winners, image via First Wind.
It’s no wonder the New England Clean Energy Council (NECC) and the NECEC Institute recently awarded wind energy developer First Wind the 2014 Green Tie Gala Award for Employer of the Year. For one thing, wind energy is already known for creating quality, well-paying jobs. First Wind fits the bill in that category as well as others. The award, according to NECEC, is given based on a few criteria:
- Substantial workforce growth
- The development of a strong entrepreneurial workforce culture
- Good, well-paying jobs for members of the community
- High-quality work environment
For First Wind, check off all those criteria—and then some. The Boston-based company has doubled its New England staff since 2009, to 119 employees in the region (and 200 total, nationwide). Generating not just electrons but jobs—that’s what the wind energy industry does, and First Wind is a concrete case in point.
“We’re firmly committed to being good neighbors in the communities that host our projects, and we strive to support local organizations whenever possible,” said spokesperson John Lamontagne, speaking to AWEA’s Wind Energy Weekly. “Our operations staff are active in their local towns, and we take a lot of pride in the community work we do.”
It’s apparent that First Wind provides top-quality jobs when considering the investment the company makes in its employees in the form of workforce development. First Wind has a tuition reimbursement program of up to $5,000 per year for both higher education and training in areas of specialization.
Internally, the company provides an online training system for employees and also holds educational seminars to teach staff about key topics or issues in renewable energy. It also encourages employees to seek outside training, footing the cost for classes and seminars offered elsewhere.
Fueled in part by the economic driver that is the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), the industry has posted historic numbers since 2009, held back during only one of those years as a result of the PTC’s threatened expiration. The PTC was eventually extended, but only after being allowed to expire. The industry could once again experience the same slowdown—and harmful economic impacts—if the PTC is not extended soon.
“A combination of strong state policies here in New England and federal clean energy policy, including the Production Tax Credit, have been a key component in our growth in New England,” said Lamontagne.
Translation: PTC equals jobs.
Another side of First Wind that reflects its way of doing business is its interaction with the communities in which it works. In 2013 the company donated more than $500,000 to a variety of local organizations, from supporting the local hockey team, to helping pay for new books in school classrooms.
First Wind also has a program in which high school seniors from communities around its projects can apply for higher-education scholarships. The company provides 16 scholarships of $3,000, and the most qualified student living near a First Wind project receives a scholarship for $5,000-a-year for four years. To date, $300,000 in college scholarships have been awarded.
The developer also provides regular tours of its projects to students and educators as well as elected leaders. And, the company embraces its New England roots with one particular community activity: At several of its Northeast projects, it hosts annual “ride-ins” for snowmobile riders and ATV enthusiasts.
“We were thrilled to win the Employer of the Year award, because it recognized that First Wind is a such great place to work,” said Lamontagne. “But now the secret is out! The key to our success is due to the excellent people we’ve been able to attract to our team.”