April Smith has been working construction in Wisconsin for six years. She lives in Middleton with her husband, an ironworker, and three children. They moved to Wisconsin from Florida in part because of family ties in the upper Midwest and also for access to a high quality public school district.
Last spring, April started working construction on the Quilt Block Wind Farm about 20 miles southeast of Platteville — an 80-minute commute for her each way — and continued on the job there through late September. Over the summer, she completed her union apprenticeship and earned her journeyman card in Laborers Local 464.
“I always told myself I would never drive more than an hour to a job, but this project was really awesome,” April says. “All the people, the company, and the community — everyone looked out for each other. They made it very family-oriented, and spared no expense for worker safety. This was my first wind project. It was exciting.”
Quilt Block is a 49-turbine 98-megawatt project developed by EDP Renewables to provide power for Dairyland Power Cooperative. It went online in October, generating enough electricity for more than 25,000 homes.
Prior to the wind farm project, April has mostly done bridge work, but she’s on light duty assignment as a result of back injuries and explains that while light duty can be hard to come by on bridge jobs, the wind farm construction provided steady opportunity. “We constantly had heavy machinery and trucks moving from one place to another, so there was flagging work needed on the roads every day, all the time,” she says.
April also did site cleanup work and drove vehicles escorting heavy equipment on the roads. Work by dozens of other laborers on the project included pouring cement foundations for the turbines, washing tower and blade pieces before installation, and a lot of road work to enable access for machinery and trucks.
“We worked a lot of six day weeks, a lot of 10-hour days, some 12-hour days too,” April says. That kind of schedule is intense but important financially for April’s family since there’s much less opportunity for outdoor work in the winter, and for health benefits. “We have awesome health benefits — as long as we’re working we don’t have to pay out-of-pocket for health care.
“I would say that this summer I was probably the bread-winner. Last summer my husband was.”
Thinking back to the beginning of the Quilt Block project, April says some aspects were hard at first, such as just getting to know the layout and locations and labeling of 49 different turbine sites.
“I love seeing the start and finish of a project,” April reflects now. “I’m going to always feel good driving past the turbines and seeing what we built. Absolutely I’d like to see another wind project in Wisconsin. I’d drive the hour and twenty minutes again.”