Energizing education at Bismarck State College and Mitchell Technical College

With the surge of economic and technological development, along with a growing population, energy demands are expected to increase by 50% over the next 25 years. Basin Electric is committed to providing reliable and affordable electricity to its members for many years to come, so ensuring there is a workforce than can carry out that task is critical. As a result, the cooperative works in partnership with two of the top colleges in its service area, Bismarck (North Dakota) State College and Mitchell (South Dakota) Technical College, to provide cutting-edge programs in the field of energy generation, maintenance, transmission, and many areas in between, allowing them to attract and fill the need for the skilled professionals that will ensure the cooperative will continue to grow and thrive.

Mitchell Technical College
Mike Puetz, director of MTC’s Power Line program, shows a student how to properly use a handline. This program is among the first programs campus-wide to reach its enrollment capacity each year and consistently has a waitlist of hopeful students.

A leader in polytechnic education

The energy industry plays an important role in the economy of Basin Electric’s service area by providing thousands of jobs in its nine-state area. Bismarck State’s National Energy Center of Excellence (NECE) provides the education and training necessary to meet the needs of this ever-growing industry both in North Dakota and across the country.

Troy Tweeten, Basin Electric senior vice president of Operations and a representative on the Bismarck State Polytechnic Business and Industry Leadership Team, says, “BSC plays a big role in developing energy programs to meet the needs of the electrical energy and oil and gas industries in North Dakota and beyond.”

The NECE at Bismarck State offers a wide range of in-demand, hands-on energy programs including everything from Power Generation Technology to a Lineworker program. The Power Generation Technology program prepares students for jobs in power generating facilities, providing them with the foundation they need to understand equipment and plant operations. The Electrical Transmission Systems Technology program prepares students to keep the transmission of electricity reliable and affordable for consumers and teaches them how to restore power through directions given to field crews.

The Energy Service and Renewable Technician program teaches students the fundamentals of the renewable energy sector. This program teaches technical processes through hands-on activities and theory. Graduates are prepared to work on solar and wind projects, as well as other areas of renewable energy.

The NECE also has a Nuclear Power Technology program approved by the Nuclear Energy Institute, which encourages safe utilization and development of nuclear energy. Students learn the skills required for many positions in the nuclear industry and includes access to a full-fidelity nuclear simulator developed specifically for Bismarck State.

The Lineworker program at the NECE is the only one of its kind in North Dakota and trains students to become skilled lineworkers. The program is taught at the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC) training center northwest of Mandan, North Dakota, where students get hands-on training in all facets of power line construction and equipment operation and maintenance.

“BSC has designed our programming and curriculum in a structure that allows for responsive, timely updates and adjustments to meet the changes happening within the energy sector,” says Alicia Uhde, Bismarck State Dean of Automation, Energy, and Advanced Technologies. “This ensures that students are learning relevant and up-to-date skills.”

Courses are taught on campus, online, or a combination of both. Depending on the program, a limited number of students can enroll each semester.

Lineworker education
The Lineworker program at Bismarck State College is taught at the NDAREC training center northwest of Mandan, North Dakota. It is the only program of its kind in North Dakota.

Hands-on training on cutting-edge technology

Mitchell Tech is known for its commitment to providing high-quality energy education. With an emphasis on hands-on training, cutting-edge technology, and industry partnerships, Mitchell Tech offers a range of programs that prepare students for successful careers in the energy industry. “Our major goal is to supply companies with quality workers,” says Mike Puetz, director of Mitchell Tech’s Power Line program. “The fact that 80% of all workers in the energy field in South Dakota are graduates of Mitchell Tech is a good indicator that we are meeting that goal.”
Mitchell Tech offers the only Power Line program in South Dakota, which teaches students the application and theory of the distribution and transmission of electrical power. “MTC was one of the very first schools in the country to offer a power line program,” Puetz says. “When it opened in 1975, there were 32 students and two instructors. This year, six instructors are providing instruction to 115 students, with students learning in both controlled and variable climates.” Part of the program requires students to complete outside lab work, including the installation of transformers and metering for overhead and underground distribution systems. The program is among the first programs campuswide to reach its enrollment capacity each year and consistently has a waitlist of hopeful students.

Mitchell Tech also has a Wind Turbine Technology program that teaches students the basics of turbines, hydraulics, and electronic networks which allow systems to communicate. Mitchell Tech is one of the few schools in the nation to have an operational 1.5-megawatt wind turbine. Students are able to get hands-on experience as they climb the turbine, which is located at Crow Lake Wind Project near White Lake, South Dakota. Crow Lake Wind is a Basin Electric-owned wind project and the largest wind project owned solely by a cooperative in the United States.

Other energy programs offered at Mitchell Tech include Electrical Utilities and Substation Technology, with access to a live electrical substation to provide hands-on training and experience with the same type of equipment a student might encounter in the field, a Natural Gas Technology program, and a Utility Technician program. All programs are taught by instructors who have real-world experience in their fields and can offer the latest and most valuable training available.

Looking to the future, Mitchell Tech has plans for an underground component of the Power Line program. “We’re hoping to construct a 34,000-square-foot building that will include a 23,500-square-foot indoor underground lab, where students can practice their trenching and wire-pulling skills without having to contend with ground warmers during the coldest months of the year,” Puetz says.

Bismarck State College Power Generation Technology program
The Power Generation Technology program at Bismarck State’s National Energy Center of Excellence prepares students for jobs in power generating facilities, providing them with the foundation they need to understand equipment and plant operations.

Building relationships and providing support

Basin Electric understands the importance of these programs and works hard to foster relationships and provide support for them. “Basin Electric is an instrumental partner in the success of BSC programming,” Uhde says. “They’ve supported us through donations and scholarships, job shadowing, internships, and job opportunities, and by sharing their industry expertise and networking; Basin Electric plays an important role in the success of these programs.”

At Mitchell Tech, Basin Electric shows its commitment and appreciation of the Energy Division by the number of employees they hire from its pool of graduates. “These relationships are mutually beneficial,” Puetz says.
Energy programs play a crucial role in preparing students for rewarding careers in the energy industry. The programs offer a diverse range of options, from traditional fossil fuel generation to cutting-edge renewable energy technologies. “The future of energy production is evolving as our nation’s energy needs grow and its interest in green energy expands,” Puetz says. What sets the NECE and MTC apart is their commitment to hands-on training, industry collaboration, and safety, ensuring that graduates are well-prepared to meet the ever-changing challenges of the energy industry.

As the energy landscape continues to evolve and electricity needs across the country grow, the demand for skilled professionals in this field is as important as ever and will never go away. Energy programs at NECE and Mitchell Tech not only provide students with a strong foundation but also contribute to the workforce, helping to power the nation’s future. 

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