From service to sustainability: Veteran-led wind sites harness the power of change
Aug 7, 2023

MOHAVE, Ariz. -- The sun beats down on the dusty streets of a war-torn Iraqi village lined by battered buildings. Standing in the heart of the struggling community is Luke Zeck, a soldier leading his team’s efforts to build a headquarters to serve as a beacon of hope for the village and its people. As he works with his team day and night to restore governance, create jobs and provide access to fresh water for locals, he keeps his main goal top of mind: ensuring the safety of his soldiers.

“A lot of lessons I learned were in that first deployment where I had the privilege to lead soldiers out of harm's way,” Zeck recalled. “Being on the frontlines with your people is what we call leading from the front.”

Over the span of his 20-year Army career, Zeck was deployed a total of five times: twice to Korea and three times to different combat zones. His two separate deployments to Iraq were followed by a final tour of duty in Afghanistan. He spent the majority of his Army career in the operation field, leading soldiers and driving organizational change.

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In 2022, Zeck transitioned out of the Army as a Purple Heart recipient with two bronze star medals and hope for a fresh start. But with limited work experience outside of the service, he was uncertain of where his life would lead him.

“I wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than just a job,” said Zeck.

That’s when he discovered a glimmer of hope at a new base: NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, a company and a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, which is the U.S.’s largest energy company and producer of more electricity from wind and solar than anyone in the world. It’s also home to another 2,000 veterans.

Today, he leads a different group on a different mission. Surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals, Zeck found a place that embraces the value of his military experience.

He started a new career as a wind site manager in Arizona and quickly moved up the ranks to become the regional site manager overseeing seven locations in the southwestern region of the U.S.

“I see a lot of connections with the military and what I do with NextEra Energy Resources,” said Zeck. “The biggest thing for me is the focus on the overall mission. We face a lot of challenges in the military that we work together to overcome. I take that same approach in what we do in the wind fleet from operations to focus on safety and attention to detail.”

Wind technicians are critical in ensuring the safe and optimal performance for all NextEra Energy Resources wind energy centers positioned across the U.S. and Canada. Zeck and his team primarily focus on the safe execution of field-based equipment maintenance, diagnostics, as well as long-term reliability.

“We’re working to provide a solution for both the environment and our economy, and I think that this is the right place for me and people that want to be challenged,” said Zeck.

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NextEra Energy is working toward a goal of achieving Real Zero, the most ambitious carbon-emissionsreduction benchmark ever set by an energy producer, committing to eliminate carbon emissions from its operations by no later than 2045 by leveraging low-cost renewables to drive energy affordability for customers. Wind is a relatively low-cost source of energy that is competitive with other forms of generation.

The White Hills Wind Energy Center in Arizona holds a special place in Zeck’s heart, and not just because it’s where he got his start with the company, but because many of the men, including Nick Soto, working at the site also served in the armed forces.

“I enjoy the sense of accomplishment when I fix things and when we complete our mission. It ties back to being in the Marine Corps,” said Soto, who's been a wind technician with NextEra Energy Resources for nearly five years after a four-year military stint.

Soto and Zeck, two seasoned veterans with impressive skill sets, embody the quintessential attributes of discipline and leadership required in the military. They have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to thrive under pressure.

Nevertheless, as they transition into new territories, their mettle is tested once again, propelling them to even greater heights of achievement.

“I used to be afraid of heights, and now one of my favorite things to do is climb the towers and just look out at the view when I'm up there. You persevere, you get through it,” said Soto.

Zeck considers it a privilege to work with such an inspiring team. From leading soldiers out of harm’s way to now leading a team of wind techs, he said he feels he landed exactly where he’s supposed to be.

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According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 20,000 men and women transition out of U.S. military service each year. As the energy industry grows, companies are opening arms to military veterans in the trade.

“There are so many synergies between serving our country and working in the energy industry,” NextEra Energy’s Iliana Rentz said. “Veterans understand what it means to have a duty to serve whenever called upon.”

Rentz is a 12-year Army combat veteran awarded with a Bronze Star and a Combat Action badge. She’s been working for NextEra Energy for 18 years and is heavily involved in helping veterans transition into a career in the industry. She currently serves as the vice president for Veterans in Energy, a national organization committed to supporting veterans in the energy industries and companies' veteran employee resource groups.

“Veterans are a perfect fit at NextEra Energy,” Rentz said. “They understand the way we operate and have a unique blend of values, experiences, skills and discipline they bring to the workplace.”

NextEra Energy is known for its veteran support. More than 10% of its workforce are veterans. In 2021, Forbes recognized it as one of the best employers for veterans for its efforts in recruitment, employment and retainment.

Those same efforts awarded the company the 2022 HIRE Vets Platinum Medallion from the U.S. Department of Labor for the fourth year in a row.

“I’m thankful to have the team that we have at NextEra Energy, from the techs to headquarters, we’re all aligned towards the same mission,” said Zeck.