ESTEVAN - The Southeast College continues to make progress with its Centre of Sustainable Innovation, which will be located at the college’s Estevan campus.
Last week the college announced the hiring of Darcy Nolte as its new vice-president, innovation and strategic development, putting him at the helm of the centre. He will begin his new role on Feb. 21.
Nolte said the college is in the midst of talking to the City of Estevan, stakeholders, the coal transition centre, the local innovation council and Innovation Saskatchewan about courses that could be offered.
They hope to start offering classes in the fall of 2023.
“Right now, we’re looking at alternative energy, so wind, solar and that kind of thing,” said Nolte. “We’re also looking at lithium development policy, potash upgrading and SMR [small modular reactor] products, like SMR training, not on the engineering side of things but on the operation side of things.
“There are so many things right now that are out there. We’re being approached on a weekly basis by different organizations to offer different programs.”
Some courses already offered at the college could fit with the mandate of the sustainable energy centre, including industrial mechanic, which Nolte said could fit on a maintenance side of things for SMRs. They offer power engineering, which he believes would also fit with SMRs. A solar unit acquired a few years ago with a 100-kilowatt system will be repurposed as a training product for solar installation and maintenance, along with research.
Estevan is recognized as a very forward-thinking community, he said, and city council and innovation council are very entrepreneurial in their mindset.
The primary staff for the centre is in place right now. As the program progresses, Nolte predicts there will be an opportunity for instructors, researchers or custodial people.
Nolte said he would not be one of the instructors, as he will be occupied with his new role.
The centre will be located in a designated area on the second level of the college’s Estevan campus. Some classes will require smaller numbers, because it’s more one-on-one and hands-on instruction, while others can have larger sizes.
There is a vision to add a stand-alone innovation centre in Estevan, and also to expand it to the other five campuses in the Southeast College system. But for now, the focus is on the Estevan campus.
“As we move forward with some of the thoughts and vision that we have, it will necessitate a stand-alone, sustainable innovation centre building,” said Nolte.
Nolte is no stranger to the college, as he has been working there for over four years.
“I started as a part-time co-ordinator for industry, and it’s just been a learning experience. I come from oil and gas,” said Nolte.
He has been co-ordinating the college's strategic business development and training programs and manages its facility operations. Additionally, he led the powerline technician apprenticeship program and helped create a memorandum of understanding with the University of Regina for new programming and applied research initiatives in 2022, and he obtained $200,000 from the Municipal Coal Transition Funding Committee.
Nolte said they are sorting out how the partnership with the U of R will look.
The time at the college has helped prepare him for this new role.
“In the oil and gas industry, I wasn’t a vice-president, but I was at a fairly elevated position with an oil and gas company, but I’ve prepared for this based on past experience,” he said.
Nolte started his career working in heavy construction with Ledcor and PCL over 35 years ago. He worked predominately in the oil and gas sectors, both on tools as a pipefitter, then as a lead tradesman which quickly evolved into a larger project supervisory role as a superintendent. Beginning in northern Alberta, he worked for an oil and gas producer in various operational and maintenance roles. He had access to great entrepreneurial colleagues who helped him learn and grow.
As part of his various operational and management roles, Nolte completed a process operations certificate from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, which led him to transfer to seven different areas before landing in Saskatchewan in 2011 as the senior operations superintendent in charge of Saskatchewan and southeast Alberta field, with 162 employees.
Nolte believes there is a natural connection between work in the oil and gas industry and sustainable innovation.
“At a high level, it might appear ironic, but my experience in the oil and gas world is we are always innovating, always trying to do better, always trying to make things better and reduce emissions and reduce costs, that kind of thing,” said Nolte. “That’s prepared me for now, where we’re going to work with oil and gas. That’s our plan.
“We’re not about getting rid of hydrocarbons. That’s not our belief, but we have to work with organizations, with oil and gas, as well as all of our partners to step into the next chapter of what hydrocarbons look like.”
Nolte said Southeast College president and CEO Vicki Roy had the vision for the sustainable innovation centre. He described her and the team in strategic development as being “very entrepreneurial”.
“This is a great fit, and I’m really excited. We have a colossal sense of urgency, we want things to happen right away, so you might see things happen sooner than later. But we also have to take a measured approach to how this looks, because we want it to be sustainable; we don’t want it to be a flash in the plan and here and gone.”
Roy welcomed the news of Nolte’s new role.
“Darcy has established many successful partnerships with businesses and industries during his career, making him an ideal candidate for this strategic position,” said Roy. “His experience in the energy sector, background in agriculture, long-term relationships with stakeholders and partners in our region, a strong network, and knowledge of the southeast region will be extremely valuable in overseeing the newly announced Centre for Sustainable Innovation and the first branch on the Estevan campus.”