Working in the wind may mean working close to home for the Kansans
When Chance Jacobson graduated from high school, he was faced with a conundrum probably familiar to many young people who grew up on the rural plains. He had spent the last 18 years on his family farm about 65 km east of Salina, learning the trade from his father and grandfather.
â€œI wanted to farm with my dad, and there just wasn’t enough money,â€ Jacobson said. â€œBetween my dad and my grandfather working together, and for me to come in and be the third person in the operation, there just wasn’t much room for me.
He would be the sixth generation farmer on this land if he stayed, and with their family farm growing crops and raising cattle, they could use this help. But in the rural area where he grew up, the closest unincorporated town long ago, options for additional income were limited.
It was at this point that a tractor repairer who had spoken to Jacobson’s father mentioned that he wished he could have gone into wind power instead of working on tractors because it seemed like a much better job.
There is a wind farm a few miles away, so after a little research Jacobson said it would be a good salary for honest work and reliable work a whole new door opened.
Now Jacobson, who just turned 20, works as a wind technician for Enel Green Power at the Diamond Vista wind farm and farms and ranches on the side.
Diamond Vista is a 300 megawatt wind farm in Marion and Dickinson counties. It has 95 wind turbines on the properties of 300 landowners, which they pay to use their property, according to an Enel Green Power spokesperson.
â€œI never imagined working for Enel and being trendy and also cultivating at the same time,â€ Jacobson said.
Enel Green Power operates 59 renewable energy plants – including wind, geothermal and solar power – in 15 states. Six of its wind farms are in Kansas.
Jacobson is one of many young wind technicians working in rural Kansas, which illustrates a new opportunity for those who want to stay in rural areas and earn a living wage.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, employment for wind technicians is expected to increase by 61% over the next ten years. Most wind farms are expected to develop in the Great Plains and the Midwest.
â€œFor a young person who wants to stay home or close to home to work and raise a family, there just aren’t many options for high paying jobs,â€ said Josh Svaty of Kansas Advanced Power Alliance. , a wind, solar and battery energy storage company. trade association.
As of May 2020, the median annual salary was $ 56,230, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Kansas’ median is a bit higher at $ 30.41 per hour or $ 63,250 per year.
“To have an industry that invests hundreds of millions of dollars in a single county … not only creates jobs in the wind farm, but the impact of the investment spills over to the community, creating new jobs.” and other opportunities for businesses and families, at levels that a rural county would never otherwise see, â€Svaty added.
A day in Jacobson’s place
Every day Jacobson works, he starts on-site at Diamond Vista at 7 am, where they have a morning meeting and distribute tasks for general maintenance or towers repair.
â€œThis job is mostly about troubleshooting, so running the towers when they fail, running the electric hydraulics and just fixing the problems,â€ Jacobson said.
He rides the turbines almost every day, carrying around 30 pounds of equipment, and uses a ladder inside the turbine. Technicians should wear hard hats, safety glasses, steel-toed boots and gloves. Jacobson also wears hearing protection to protect his ears from the noise of the hydraulics.
When working, it uses the climb aid, a remote-controlled steel cable that removes 100 pounds of weight to help technicians climb. But even without that, he can climb the ladder about 287 feet high in about 8 minutes.
â€œIt’s hard work, you stay active and it keeps you in shape to do it,â€ Jacobson said. â€œI had some reservations (about the pitch) before I started in the wind, and then it’s like, ‘Well I want to get paid, so I have to do this.’ Now I can stand up there and look down and it doesn’t affect me at all.
His shift is usually over by 3:30 p.m., and he drives the 15 minutes or so to get to his father’s or grandfather’s operations to start working on the farm. Jacobson regularly works 8 hours a day at Diamond Vista, then 4 or 5 at home.
â€œI usually make a call to my dad when I get into my truck, like, ‘Hey, why do you need help or where are you?’,â€ Jacobson said. â€œWe’re a bit scattered, but whether we’re working with cattle or working the fields and crops, it’s a different day every day.
Jacobson’s drive to the farm is short but scenic. The road weaves its way in and around the hills as it drives past fields blackened from annual prescribed burns. Sometimes the hills give birth to such crisp skylines that it just seems like green wheat touching the blue sky. Then he turns around and is greeted by layered rolling views filled with trees, fields, farm buildings, and wind turbines.
A gravel road almost serves as a long driveway to their home, which like all well-used country roads has two groves in the center where drivers can put their tires, lest they skid and skid.
The house and barn were built recently, in 2006, replacing the farmhouse and barn that used to be there. Her father, Michael, her mother, Annette and her two siblings still live there.
Today, his father and grandfather Roy are â€œworking cows,â€ which means they receive their vaccines, mark the cows, remove the horns and separate the calves from their mothers to wean them. It’s a big process, says Michael Jacobson.
â€œWhen you have cattle, it’s a 24/7 job,â€ said Michael Jacobson. “There is always something to do on the farm.”
Chance Jacobson rents his own house now and has put 100 acres of wheat there. This will be his first year buying cows.
â€œI never imagined I could do it so soon,â€ said Jacobson. “I thought I would have to be 30 before I could come back.”
Her dream is to someday cultivate with her younger brother, who is still in high school. Jacobson is passionate about clean energy and growing and raising cows and crops, but is concerned about the misinformation about farmers and their role in climate change.
â€œYou put carbon back into the soil and that contributes to climate change,â€ Jacobson said.
The Jacobsons are switching to No-Till, an agricultural practice that is believed to be more environmentally friendly and reduce topsoil erosion. They’ve also tried to cut back on the chemicals they use and create quality beef and grain products, Jacobson said.
â€œEnel hired me, and it kept me in the area,â€ Chance Jacobson said. â€œThere aren’t a lot of jobs in the community, and I’m glad it worked. I am happy here.
â€œI would like to think that we are blessed,â€ added his father.