Most people who work over 30 stories up do so in the safe confines of a skyscraper. Meredith Halfpenny, however, can feel the breeze in her hair from the top of a wind turbine.
By her own estimation, Halfpenny has helped build around 400 turbines and made more than 1,200 trips up and down their giant towers. And she finds herself in what can aptly be described as a job of the future: her skills are in high demand both where she works in Ontario, Canada, and south of the border, where in 2017 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics said it expected wind turbine technicians to represent the second-fastest-growing occupation in America, more than doubling in overall number of employees through 2026 (number one was solar-panel installer).
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“I think people have some reservations because it’s new, and people resist change. Once this first generation is done and we move forward with it, it will be more and more embraced,” she said in an interview with MIT Technology Review. “It just seems like this is the future. This is where we are headed, and where we should be headed.”
Halfpenny got into the business after working as a security guard at a wind farm. “I wanted to be on the construction side and work on putting them up,” she says. “But part of me thought it was a stigmatized thing to work in construction as a woman.”
Her worries quickly dissipated, though, when she saw what kind of community she’d stepped into. Many of her coworkers were thrill-seekers who enjoyed hobbies like ice climbing and riding BMX when they weren’t scaling wind towers. But that love of high-stakes activity translated into close ties and a strong sense of camaraderie on the job.
“When people think construction, you think it’s a ‘rough workman’ kind of thing. It’s not like that at all,” she says. An atmosphere of trust develops quickly out of necessity, she adds, as people cooperate to keep each other safe while working hundreds of feet in the air. The fact that every day’s work helps generate more clean energy is a major plus, too: “Working in renewables, you feel good about it. A lot of people are drawn to it, and it resonates with people. Everyone comes together very quickly. You have a collective purpose for your jobs.”
As a contractor for C&C Wind Energy Services, Halfpenny is involved in both constructing and servicing turbines from a variety of companies. Her 10-hour day begins and ends in an office, but the majority of her time is spent outside at a variety of altitudes. On a given day, she might be found doing anything from inspecting newly delivered turbine parts on terra firma to checking out a just-completed turbine.
“I’ve been up there a lot and it never gets old. I never don’t want to look outside,” says Halfpenny. “It’s so rewarding after you sweat like a pig and were huffing and puffing to get up there.”
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June 11-12, 2019