The Winds of Change: Celebrating two decades of homegrown energy in North Dakota
May 1, 2024
A wind turbine against a blue sky and surrounded by a wheat field.

When John Di Donato arrived in southeastern North Dakota two decades ago, his task was to build the first wind farm in the state. He had never been to the state, and he had never built a wind farm before. But Di Donato knew one thing: before he could build a wind farm, he had to build relationships.

Those relationships proved so strong that in April, Di Donato and many of the community leaders who encouraged, supported and fought for the project celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first two NextEra Energy Resources wind turbines erected in the state.

A new documentary, “Winds of Change: The Wind Sites That Transformed North Dakota” debuted at the celebration in Jamestown.

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“One of the most beneficial things we have been able to do for this community is to provide local people with good paying jobs in the area,” said Di Donato, Vice President of Development Origination for NextEra Energy Resources. “Their kids are coming back.”

Today, NextEra Energy Resources’ subsidiaries operate 15 wind energy centers across North Dakota, offering careers to young people who had planned to move out of the state. NextEra Energy Resources has invested $3.8 billion in North Dakota over the last 20 years and added annual payroll of $24 million.

Wind Technician Leader Lucas Montag takes pride in supplying the energy his community needs on a day-to-day basis. He said he was attracted to the profession because there is so much variety.

“You get to work on a lot of different equipment and handle different projects,” said Montag. “You never know what you will be doing that day before you show up.”

Montag remembers the first summer he worked as a wind technician. He was atop a wind turbine near a gravel pit. Below him, there were bulldozers, excavators, dump trucks and other heavy machinery.

“From my view, they looked like little Tonka toys in a sandbox,” said Montag. “It was fascinating to see this from about 300 feet up.”

The opportunity to work close to home was also appealing for wind technician Shane Steele, who has served on the local school board and is currently serving on another board helping bring new events to his small community.

“When I saw this job, it was taking me out of the office role and back into what I like to do: work with my hands and I just thought it was a good fit,” said Steele. “I’m just 20 miles from my house and I’m home every night with my wife and kids.”

Steele also mentors new technicians and provides his expertise to other wind sites. He helped the team in King Mountain, Texas bring older turbines back online.

“Because there were few of these turbines left in the company and knowledge was limited, we were able to use our specific pitch knowledge,” he said.

In 2003, local community leaders were interested in renewable wind energy. Some had called North Dakota the Saudia Arabia of wind and community leaders were ready to tap into that resource.

“I embraced and I promoted it right from the beginning,” said local farmer Fred Gackle, who knew wind farms would be compatible with agriculture and has seamlessly farmed around nine towers on his property over the last 20 years. “I knew it was going to be good for us as a farm, as well as the community, county, township and state.”

A preview to Winds of Change: The Wind Sites That Transformed North Dakota

 

 
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