It probably takes a certain kind of person to enjoy work atop a 300-foot high tower. Brodie Dockendorf is that kind of person. “As a kid I always climbed to the top of the highest trees,” he says. “And I was always mechanically inclined, starting with working on cars.”
Brodie grew up in New Hampton, a small town in northeastern Iowa. After high school, he worked in construction for eight years, including masonry work and servicing forklifts and cranes. Then he caught sight of his first wind turbine.
“My wife and I were driving around Clear Lake and out of the corner of my eye I saw just the tip of a blade over the tree line,” Brodie recalls. “We drove right up to the base of the turbine and I told my wife ‘I’ve got to know what’s in this thing.’”
A year later Brodie landed a job as a wind technician in Garner, Iowa, learning the trade through on-the-job training and a lot of independent study, reading equipment manuals at home in the evenings. Thirteen years later now, a veteran of wind farm operation and maintenance throughout northeastern Iowa and southern Minnesota, Brodie works for EDP Renewables managing operation of the Quilt Block wind farm near Darlington in southwestern Wisconsin. He and his family live nearby in Cuba City. Quilt Block started generating electricity in October, enough to power more than 25,000 homes for Dairyland Power Cooperative.
“One of best parts of my job is I still get to go out and climb turbines, working with the service teams from time to time,” Brodie says.
As he describes the daily work of a wind tech, it sounds similar in many ways to that of an auto mechanic: regularly checking and changing filters, coolant and oil; tightening bolts; and inspecting motors, fans and radiators. Of course, it’s all done high above ground, so tools and parts are raised up on a chain hoist.
“What a technician does is take ownership of how the turbines run,” Brodie explains.
“Construction of a wind farm is the most challenging work because it’s so fast-paced, often a turbine a day that needs full mechanical inspection, what we call a ‘mechanical walk-down.’”
Now that Quilt Block construction is complete, techs will conduct regular 6-month and 1-year service on all the turbines for the entire 25-year life of the project, monitor performance, and deal with any issues that arise.
Brodie is quick to reflect on what work in the wind industry means for rural development: “In the town where I grew up we had Sara Lee Bakery, that was the life blood,” he says. “When Sara Lee left there wasn’t much in the way of good-paying jobs anymore, and that was happening all over. There wasn’t much reason for kids to stay in rural towns because it was challenging financially. You end up being forced to move to a bigger city, even though costs are higher.”
“For me, wind energy was a way to have a stable career and stay near home. With a high school diploma and a willingness to learn, you can have a good-paying job in a rural area. And now wind tech is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country.”
On the various wind farms he’s worked on over the years in the region, Brodie says he’s also seen some of the broader economic impacts. “A lot people on the outside might not see it, but with these projects local roads get fixed and paved, local stores get business. You see farmers putting up houses and buying new equipment because they have the financial ability to do so. It brings stability.”
Another part of Brodie’s job is talking with students about the industry, including leading tours on-site and speaking in classrooms. “I’ve always looked at what I do in this industry as more than just a job,” Brodie explains.
“Some people drive a Prius. I run a wind farm. It’s knowing that I’m helping to extend our natural resources for my great, great grandchildren who I’ll never meet.”
When he’s not working, Brodie says he enjoys hiking nearby trails in southwestern Wisconsin, or traveling to the Appalachian Mountains. “In the mountains, I like to try to hike up as high as I can,” he says. No surprise there.