For 14 years, Brenton Gibson worked in the mining industry on a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) basis.
This paid the bills, but also kept him away from his wife Karina and two small children back at home in Yungaburra in Far North Queensland.
Brenton was already fascinated by RATCH-Australia’s 180 MW Mount Emerald Wind Farm project, which was located 20 km from his home on the Atherton Tablelands, so when an opportunity to join the Vestas team operating the site came up in 2018, he jumped at the chance.
“FIFO was OK, but very hard on family life,” he said.
“I missed a lot of birthdays, Christmases and other important events. It can be quite hard on your partner because you’re away and she’s dealing with babies on her own.”
“I was following the project from day dot, getting the newsletters and keeping an eye on progress, because I was interested in the technology, which was new to me. I was also interested in the site and how they were going to build it because it’s very difficult terrain.”
“When the opportunity came up to work there it was very appealing. I saw it as an opportunity to come home and work at home. It was definitely very appealing to my wife as well.”
Despite having no previous experience in renewables, the skills Brenton honed through apprenticeships and experience as an electrician in the mines stood him in good stead to make the switch to working as a wind turbine technician at Mount Emerald.
“There was a slight learning curve to get used to new systems, but the electrical side of it and the drawings were familiar.”
“Here you aren’t just an electrician. You are involved in a whole range of tasks, where at the mines they were very separate.”
“That’s not a bad thing at all, as long as you don’t mind getting dirty. There were some tools that were new to me, but with a bit of training you get used to it pretty quickly.”
“I am enjoying the job. I was up on the nacelle aligning the sensors this morning. I looked out over the wind farm and thought, ‘this is a bloody good office to have’.”
Brenton’s enthusiasm for the spectacular 53-turbine site is shared by the local community. When the wind farm gates were opened for the first public open day in August 2019, more than 600 people climbed aboard buses for a look around.
Brenton was pressed into service as a tour guide.
“The open day was fantastic,” he said.
“It was good to get people’s questions about the wind farm, how it works and help them understand what’s going on. I get a lot of questions from friends at barbecues as well. I get pounded with them actually.”
“People are genuinely interested in the wind farm and it’s good they get an opportunity to get more informed. The more people understand, the more they change their tune about the wind farm as well.”
With his children now aged five and seven, Brenton is clear on the advantages available to anyone else contemplating making use of their existing skills in the growing renewables industry.
“Doing this job has had extreme benefits for my family life and that’s the biggest takeaway I have. Whichever project you’re working on, in the wind industry you’ll always be near enough a town and that means you can settle down and have somewhere to go home to every night.”
Mount Emerald Wind Farm was developed and built by RATCH-Australia and was Queensland’s largest wind farm when it began generating clean power in late 2018.
The project features 37 Vestas V117 turbines and 16 Vestas V112 machines. At the peak of construction 300 workers were employed. Ongoing employment of around 15 on-site staff is expected to be required to maintain the wind farm throughout its operating life.