Northeastern Junior College, NextEra Energy partnership expanding to include solar

College celebrates groundbreaking for new Solar Learning Lab

By CALLIE JONES | | Sterling Journal-Advocate
September 10, 2021 at 6:07 p.m.

September 13, 2021
Solar Learning Lab Ground Breaking Ceremony

For years Northeastern Junior College and Nextera Energy have had a great partnership and now that partnership is expanding. Friday afternoon the college celebrated the groundbreaking of a new Solar Learning Lab donated by NextEra.

“NextEra Energy was really pivotal in starting (the wind tech program) back in 2008, but even in previous years before that they helped us build and develop the program, along with some of our other partners out here in northeast Colorado,” said Jason Hazlett, chair of NJC’S Renewable Energy Department.

Hazlett used to work for NextEra Energy himself and in 2011 he moved into teaching. Since he came on board at NJC and even before that NextEra has been great at supplying parts, motors, and anything the program may need.

In 2019, the company donated a nacelle and a hub to NJC and in 2020 they donated a GE 1.5 hub, along with 800 solar panels with the intent of the college developing a learning lab on campus.

“That way we could start teaching our students part of that job and that will be you guys’ job if you go into wind; that’s just going to be one of those things you’re going to have to learn,” Hazlett told students at the groundbreaking.

He also thanked NextEra for the support they’ve given NJC the last couple of years while the company has been working on its new Niyol Wind Farm south and west of Fleming.

NJC President Jay Lee gave remarks about the importance of the wind program and other career and technical programs.

“I’ve been in the community college business for about 34 years now and in that 34 years I’ve seen a lot of changes and faced a lot of challenges in some of the positions I’ve held, I’ve also noticed a lot of differences in terms of how we respond to the issues of the day. One of the many things I’ve learned that has especially been emphasized over the last few years is there is a very strong demand for community colleges to create and build career and technical education programs,” he said, adding “I think we can be very proud of what we’ve developed here at Northeastern, our wind tech program is a shining star for our institution.”

Lee noted that opportunities in career and technical education are for young, not so young and maybe even a little bit older students these days, as NJC teaches everyone from high school students to adults coming back into the workforce.

While CTE programs are invaluable, it’s no easy feat to create them and keep them going. They are expensive, they take up a lot of space, you have to find highly qualified people who sometimes aren’t easy to come by and it requires developing really strong partnerships, as well as securing financial contributions.

“Big checks are kind of what we need these days in order for education to do the kind of things that we need to do. We don’t get the big checks like Harvard, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Denver, but we do thankfully have great partnerships like we have with NextEra,” Lee said.

He pointed out that NJC is nationally recognized for its wind tech program and that’s in large part because of the great work of Northeastern staff, but also because of partnerships like the one they have with Nextera.

“Our relationship with NextEra I would argue is more than a partnership; they have in many ways become part of Northeastern. We really feel like you’re part of us, you’re part of our family here at Northeastern,” he told NextEra staff. “I think we can tell by the engagement of all of you here, I think that shows how much this company, this organization is committed to seeing education like ours here at Northeastern and the wind tech program and soon to be this educational project related to solar energy, it shows you how important they think it is because they’re showing their engagement, they’re showing their commitment and they’re here to show their support for us.”

Lee ended by thanking others in the community who’ve been involved with helping NJC build these programs.

Terrin Scheopner, wind site manager for Peetz Wind, Logan County Wind and Northern Colorado Wind and an NJC alum, told the college it’s doing a great job, which is why they make it a point to always try to donate to the program when they can. Plus, it’s exciting to see what NJC students are able to do with the various items they donate.

NextEra also supports NJC by providing internships, which Scheopner told the students is a great way for them to get experience.

“We love having NJC students, you guys are right in our backyard, so we know you’re going to stick around once you get out of college. So, we love hiring you guys,” he said.

DJ Gleason, construction site manager for the Niyol Wind project, which should be completed by the end of October, spoke about his experience over the last 14 years building wind turbines, as well as multiple solar projects.

“I want to give you a little bit of an idea of what NextEra is trying to look at to basically put a steady energy stream down the grid. What we basically are looking to do is the trifecta: we have the wind blowing, we have solar captured and then we actually have a battery storage, so that we can always have that same megawatt output on the grid,” Gleason said.

He told students in the future of the industry it will be a lot more important for them to have knowledge of wind, as well as solar energy.

Jennifer Herron, project manager for Niyol, thanked the staff at NJC for being “a massive partner in what we’ve done.”

“We are an amazing company, you have some many opportunities. And you guys don’t realize, in the midwest, this is the strongest, best technical school for wind and soon to be renewables, actually maybe in the country,” she told the students. “Everywhere we go, our competitors, our coworkers, our industry partners are all asking ‘what’s going on at NJC?’ So anything we can do to help you guys have a better and brighter future, we’re going to do it all the time.”

She is excited to see the current NJC students at some of NextEra’s Colorado sites in the future, including the Niyol site and a site opening in Pueblo.

“We want to thank the community for being a partner with us in this whole adventure over the last 13 years. We’re really, really glad that NextEra could produce 10% of the power of this state, you guys don’t realize the stuff you’re doing is producing power that’s going all over the state and we’re making our country more energy independent, and that’s a great thing,” Herron said.

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