Nathan Durfey is the Facility Manager for Pattern Energy’s Stillwater Wind located in, appropriately enough, Stillwater County, Montana.
“Our turbines are a little off the highway, and not everyone sees our turbines in their day-to-day life,” Nathan said to me. “When I worked in Wyoming, we had them right off I-80 and they were fairly hard to miss.”
The location of the Stillwater Wind turbines might not jump to mind right away. They stand, spin, and are maintained by a professional crew and deliver renewable energy to homes in Montana. It might not be top of mind for the average person that doesn’t see them every day.
Where the turbines were located (and more) was top of mind for a discerning audience that peppered Nathan with questions about his job and industry: students from Columbus Middle School in Columbus, Montana.
Q & A with curious minds
Nathan enjoys the community engagement that comes along with his work. When Columbus Middle School counselor Lindsey Cross reached out to ask if he’d be willing to speak at Career Day, Nathan said yes.
“Sure, it’s fun, but it’s also important for the next generation to see what we do and how important it is,” Nathan said, and then chuckled a little. “They had some really good questions!”
I had to know what amused him so much, so I started with, “What was the first question you got asked?”
Nathan chuckled again and said, “Money. It was money. How much do I make, what is the pay range for my position…money. They wanted to know what they could make. Once we got past the money, the students were really thoughtful and had good questions for me.”
Nathan said he admired the curiosity of the students. They wanted to know how much energy is produced by the turbines, how they work, and a big one: how do wind techs get to the top?
Not everyone knows this, but inside the wind turbine tower is a ladder that goes to the top, with a few small platforms along the way.
The wind tech wears a harness and a “climb assist pendant” that attaches to a long cable running up the inside of the tower.
When activated, the pendant offers a lift assist to the tech that is as cool as it is effective: It starts pulling the tech upwards as they climb on the ladder. They still have to climb, but it’s almost like being on the moon as they move upwards faster than they could without the climb assist pendant.
The students thought that was neat, and Nathan told me he made a special point to talk to the young women in the class as well. “We have women working at all levels in Pattern Energy, from managing project construction, to running our largest operating wind energy site down in New Mexico, and on our Executive Team,” Nathan said, “As we discussed different types of jobs that go along with wind, I wanted those ladies to know there are jobs waiting for them, too. Wind power is not only for men.”
Nathan shared with me some of the careers available in wind, and I thought it would be interesting for our readers as well.
Examples of the careers in wind include: Stakeholder Relations, Meteorology, Project Management: Development, Construction, Operations, Permitting, Environmental, Legal, Power-marketing, Engineering, Construction, Manufacturing, Equipment operators, Electricians, Technicians, and Operators.
Climate and the future
“We showed the kids job opportunities for the future, but we also taught them a little about climate change, and why renewable energy is so important to our future,” Nathan told me with some admiration in his voice. “They got it,” he said.
Nathan told me how important he felt it was to teach the students about renewable wind energy. “This is where we’re headed globally, and while these kids learned about emissions and climate change, they also learned that if they want to have a career, they can have it in wind and,” he emphasized the word, “and.” “And,” he said, “they can have a career in wind right here in Montana.”
As for the future? Nathan was optimistic. “One of the young ladies in the class told me that at night, she can see the lights on top of the turbines from her house, and she thought that was neat.
I really enjoyed speaking to the students, and the feedback from the school was great. It was a pleasure to talk about the industry, and it’s important for the kids to know how their state gets its power.”
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