SLCC to offer training for alternative energy technicians

Area looking to become new hub

A training program for technicians needed in the state’s emerging alternative energy industry will start this fall at South Louisiana Community College’s campus in Crowley, college officials announced Monday.

Students who complete the 18-month program will be job-ready or may choose to continue alternative energy studies in the engineering program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, SLCC Chancellor Natalie Harder said.

The program will be housed in a state-of-the-art lab that has about $300,000 in equipment on the college’s Acadian campus in Crowley. Students in the program will be given access to the nearby Cleco Alternative Energy Center, a biofuel research center in Crowley developed in partnership with ULL.

Classes will begin in the fall and enrollment is capped at 20 students.

The college received nearly $550,000 from the Louisiana Community and Technical College system for the program.

There’s a demand for wastewater treatment and chemical processing technicians as the alternative energy industry emerges in Louisiana, Barbara Benson, the program’s instructor, said.

“We want to be ahead of that growth curve,” Benson said of the alternative energy industry. “I want to put out students that can get a job in alternative energy, but also a broad range of industries.”

Benson said the program prepares students for jobs in water quality testing labs, industrial food production labs, biofuel processors, industrial chemical processors or organic chemical processing plants.

The program could help the Acadiana area — known as a hub for oil and gas services — become a hub for alternative energy production as well, state Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, said.

Montoucet said alternative energies won’t replace oil and gas production, but rather “the two work together to meet our energy needs.”

On a tour of the lab, Benson pointed out some of the new equipment, including scale versions of equipment students would find in processing plants and wastewater treatment plants.

Crowley Mayor Gary Jones invited Benson to tour operations at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Benson said she plans to take her students there on a field trip.

The program, under development since 2009, is a partnership among ULL, Cleco, the Acadia Parish Police Jury and Lafayette Economic Development Authority. The Cleco Alternative Energy Center researches the use of agricultural waste from rice and sugarcane farming, wood chips, manure and other grasses for the creation of biofuels.

Willie Smith, SLCC vice chancellor of business and industry, said the program will play a role in attracting alternative energy companies to the state.

“This significant effort by SLCC and our partners will allow Acadiana and the state to compete for siting of alternative energy companies, which will have an enormous impact on our economy …, ” Smith said in a news release.