ROCHESTER -- Michael Johnson compares being at the top of a wind turbine to standing on the end of a fishing pole. Only it's nearly 300 feet in the air.

"The tower moves about 3 feet," said Johnson, a Rochester-based electrician.

As wind power continues to sweep through southern Minnesota and the country, local electricians are training others how to safely maintain the prodigious pinwheels. A few miles south of Rochester, the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union has created a wind power training center that simulates rescue and climbing situations in a 52-foot tower. Union officials, who estimate that 25 percent of electricians are unemployed, said it's the union's only such U.S. center. Training began two weeks ago.

"It's probably going to be the biggest thing that happens in the electrical industry, in our area, anyway," said Tom Leonard, a Rochester resident and union member.

Through 2012, about 35,000 new wind turbines are planned across the Midwest. Mower County already has 186, and 41 are operating in Dodge County. More are expected.

When local electricians began working on the Prairie Star Wind Farm in 2007, problems became clear, from the height to properly wearing harnesses.

"It became evident real soon that we weren't trained for this," said Derek Mensink.

The new $90,000 training facility allows electricians to practice climbing, as well as learn how to rescue an injured worker. It has piqued interest from electricians in the Dakotas, Iowa and Missouri.

Because the towers usually are in rural areas, emergency response crews are several miles -- and minutes -- away, Mensink said.

The five-day class takes about 40 hours to complete and the IBEW local is trying to obtain certification for the safety-training program. That would provide graduates with an edge in competing for heavily sought wind-power jobs, according to Mensink.

"For the next five to 10 years, this is really the next big thing for us," he said.