It was the winter of 2019 and Jay Dudley craned his neck staring up at the nearly 300-foot wind turbine.

His objective: to climb the structure — the length of a football field — so he could continue his Renewable Specialist Apprenticeship program, formed in a partnership with the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and Michigan State Utility Workers Council (MSUWC).

He had his doubts, but a lot was riding on the climb, including a new position that would move him and his family closer to home. So, he gathered himself and focused on the job at hand. He channeled himself into a state of calmness, which served him well as a young football player and one he continues today — as the latest graduate of the Consumers Energy renewable specialist class.

“I got tunnel vision right before I started climbing,” said Dudley, who worked as a compressor station mechanic at White Pigeon before applying for the renewable specialist position. “The feeling I had climbing up that turbine for the first time was incredible. It’s something I wish everyone could experience.”

Dudley completed the climb, but his journey was just beginning. Thankfully it was one he wouldn’t have to face alone. He formed a special bond with three members from his class, which officially graduated during a ceremony at the Potterville Training Center in late August. Besides being one of the first classes to go through the program, they dealt with a pandemic, which sometimes made it hard to train in person.

“But we did what we set out to do,” Dudley said. “Thanks to all the people who helped train us from day one, we were able to accomplish our goal of being a renewable energy specialist.”

Dudley, who also is a union steward for UWUA of America Local 129, said the three people who he went through the training with will be his friends forever. All four now work at the Gratiot Wind Farm, which has 60 turbines with 72 more on the way.

“It was a pretty cool experience to go through together and we developed a great friendship during our training,” he said. “There were a lot of curveballs. And the thing I learned is, everyone needs be flexible to accomplish a goal and that’s what led to us becoming graduates. It’s been an honor.”

The nearly three-year program, developed jointly by our Learning and Development team and Power for America (P4A), trains apprentices to climb great heights to fix hydraulics and complete advanced electrical troubleshooting. Once the program is complete, apprentices are certified to work in wind, solar and battery fields.

Meet the three other renewable specialists:

  • Wesley VanBuren started with the company in March of 2014 as a gas lines construction worker.
  • Ryan Boots joined the company in July of 2012 as a fleet technical specialist.
  • Collin George began his Consumers Energy career in May of 2014 as a meter reader.

The program is preparing to hire and train additional renewables employees over the next two years – and helps ensure no worker is left behind in the clean energy transformation, said Andy Snider, Director of Renewable Operation.

“This program will continue to help us develop employees in various areas of our company to be our new renewable energy future,” Snider said. “And this class will be part of implementing our Clean Energy Plan that will reshape Michigan’s future.”