Working 80 metres up in the air fixing faults in complex electrical systems is a real buzz for Louie, Nic and Derek, who have all had interesting journeys on the way to becoming Senvion’s core service team in South Gippsland. All three men feel fortunate to have stimulating work within easy driving distance to family and home.
Louie grew up in Warragul and now lives at Venus Bay to be in closer range of the Wonthaggi and Bald Hills Wind Farm. He spent eight years working as a machine operator at a Visy plastics factory before the chance came along to become one of Australia’s first wind apprentices in electrotechnology.
“I was on auto pilot until then and was really after a job with a career path. I was really happy to find this job and be trained to work with the technology”, he said.
Louie has been a real success story, with his application chosen from among 700 to be the first recruits for a four-year electrical apprenticeship specifically designed for the development of wind farms in Australia. He went on to be employed by Senvion as a service technician in Warrnambool and Wonthaggi, in the monitoring room in Melbourne, and with the installation of the 52 turbines at Bald Hills, he is now one of a team of nine technicians living locally to service South Gippsland.
But he has seen the impacts of forced redundancy as the industry has struggled in fits and starts as a result of an uncertain policy environment for renewables. Unfortunately, the apprenticeship program, which was pioneered in partnership with RMIT, has since become a casualty of tough times.
“It’s a bit disappointing because the Australian electrical apprenticeship is really based around domestic work, wiring up houses, whereas the electrical systems in wind farms are far more advanced,” Louie explained.
Louie has since gone to Germany for more specialised training on pre-commissioning and equipment repair – something that he would like to see possible in Australia.
Nic Spicer, who worked on wind turbines in his native Nova Scotia in Canada, recently made the move to Australia with his wife, who hails from the hills behind Korumburra. Before arriving, he was warned it would be “extremely hard to get a job in renewables in Australia” given the uncertainty around the future of the Renewable Energy Target at the time.
“It doesn’t seem like as much is happening here with renewables – whereas in Canada, there is a lot of work going on,” Nic observed. “Until recently, this was the go-ahead industry. Something needs to be done because there are lots of people involved in wind farms and a lot of community support for renewable energy,” Louie said.
The new wind turbines at Bald Hills are intelligent technical machines with a smarter design, having very little power wastage with the converter system at the base. The team hopes to see more of the new generation machines across regional Australia.
The service crew’s team leader, Derek, who grew up in the Latrobe Valley and has worked on everything from fixing coal dredgers to building the Synchrotron and fixing science equipment in Antarctica, said the interest in jobs in renewables was huge in regional areas.
The work is far removed from the installation of power points and smoke alarms in domestic homes, which is what makes the industry so attractive to technicians and engineers.
“We recently advertised positions for Bald Hills in the Latrobe Valley Express, and when I was back home last week I had everyone asking me about the jobs but we’d already filled them. There was a lot of interest. A lot of people are doing the fly in and fly out and are on good money, but they’re looking to move closer to home as well.”
All three are concerned about the future of renewable energy policy in Australia.
“This is the only country that is taking a step back on renewables – the Danes are going to be at 50%, China is investing heavily … it can only get better here I guess,” says Nic, with the benefit of an international perspective.
“Renewables are definitely the future and we need to stay in that direction,” said Derek.