Retiring wind technician proves it’s never too late in life to climb to new heights
Mar 7, 2024
Stan Mcelreath on a wind turbine in Texas

GRAHAM, Texas -- Wind gusts whirled  and whipped around Stanley Mcelreath as he stood 376 feet above ground. Secured by a stable harness atop a wind turbine, he gazed out over the turbines at NextEra Energy Resources’ Young Wind site in Graham, Texas. At 63 years old, this is where he feels most alive.

“Still after 10 years, it’s an adrenaline rush,” said Mcelreath with a grin.

Later this year when he turns 64, Mcelreath will take his last climb when he retires from the company. The rest of his team of wind technicians at this site will take over the responsibility of ensuring all 150 plus turbines are operational and generating electricity. Whether it’s maintenance or troubleshooting mechanical issues, working on these machines comes with its own set of challenges.

“You got to get to where the work is, so we climb at least once a day,” Mcelreath chuckled while he looked toward the sky.

The ascent is a straight shot to the top, up several sections of ladder. Certainly, dizzying for anyone who has a fear of heights or small spaces. It’s a job that requires courage, and for Mcelreath, it’s a source of pride.

“It’s all gonna be alright,” Mcelreath hums to one of his favorite classic rock jams that played in the truck on his drive down the long, winding dirt roads that lead to the next turbine. Mcelreath, born and raised in the Lone Star State, knows every twist and turn like the back of his hand. For him, this is home.

“You have to be ready for anything, wherever a particular problem may lead you,” he said matter-of-factly. “That’s something I learned quickly in the United States Air Force.”

His experience training aircrew members survival techniques in a global combat environment has prepared him for this job in more ways than one, but above all: the importance of prioritizing safety.

From daily safety briefings and pre-climb checks to a harness weighting nearly 25 pounds with several clips, buckles and emergency safety gear, Mcelreath and his fellow techs pair up for each climb to ensure safety is never sacrificed while getting the job done.

This is just one of more than 150 wind facilities owned and operated by NextEra Energy Resources across North America, capable of generating enough electricity to power millions of homes and businesses.

“When I tell people about [Mcelreath] climbing at 63, almost 64, they just can’t believe it,” said 27-year-old, Senior Wind Tech, Tanner Rothrock. “He was with me for my very first climb (six years ago) and I’ll probably be with him for his last.”

Tanner, a second-generation wind technician, along with the eight other men who work with Mcelreath on the daily, admire the positivity and dedication he brings to the job every day. That energy will be missed deeply upon his retirement.

“It’s been an adventure, but I’m ready,” Mcelreath paused. “It’s bittersweet.”

While his days will no longer be filled with hundreds of steps up a ladder, his retirement will take him to new heights in other ways. He’ll be hitting the road, traveling across the country to explore new places starting in Washington, D.C.

He looks forward to visiting his daughter, volunteering at suicide prevention and crisis centers, manning the phone lines for people in need. Mcelreath started doing this several years ago to honor his late son Zachary.

“I don’t want this to happen to somebody else. It’s something that changes your life. You never get over it,” said Mcelreath. “I can’t explain it; I just feel compelled to do it.”

Just as he entered the world of wind turbine maintenance later in life, Mcelreath looks forward to the unexpected joys this next chapter could bring. He’s also looking forward to teeing off on new golf courses, aiming to fulfill a life-long dream of sinking a hole-in-one.

 

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