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May 06, 2022

Employees' Experience, Knowledge Transfers to Wind Farms

Russell Pitts had every intention of retiring from Pirkey power plant.

Lance Hull, plant manager of AEP's Traverse wind project, jumped at the chance to work at a wind farm after years in gas and coal-fired generation.

"I grew up there. I had 20 years there,” said Pitts, who started as an electrician at the coal-fired plant in Texas and rose to instrument supervisor. “When they announced the plant would close in 2023, I figured I had a lot of years left.”

Pitts looked around the AEP system and found the new wind farms in Oklahoma – North Central’s Traverse, Maverick and Sundance – interested him quite a bit.“

“This was a great opportunity,” Pitts, who is now the plant manager at Maverick, said. “I like being a part of something this big, this new.”

When Pitts said Maverick is big, well, the wind farm is 14 miles long and 8 miles wide. While these are technology-intensive, clean-energy projects, jobs there allow employees to take advantage of an outdoors, rural lifestyle.

“My traffic jams are cows coming across the road,” Pitts said. “I love the outdoors, that’s my thing. I get to travel more dirt roads than paved roads, and that’s the way I like it.”

Lance Hull, plant manager at Traverse, understands that sentiment well.

“I have a lot of freedom to move around,” Hull said. “I get to go and look at things.”

Traverse is another order of magnitude bigger than Maverick – it’s a quarter the size of Rhode Island – and when its 356 turbines are cranking it can generate almost a gigawatt of electricity.

North Central is an example of what is to come for AEP as the company plans to invest in 16,000 megawatts of clean energy assets across our regulated footprint.

Hull came to Traverse from Wilkes power plant, a natural gas unit in Texas. He’s worked at quite a few AEP power plants, but when he saw the opportunity to work at the new wind farms, he jumped at it.

“I thought it would be cool working with the turbines,” Hull said. “I love to learn new things. I had some misconceptions about wind facilities, some of it was negative, but these sites are amazing.

“When the wind is blowing, and the wind is blowing almost all the time here, these things are remarkable.”

AEP is working to assist employees at plants like Pirkey, which have been designated for closure, to transition into new roles.

“Our people are the most important asset we have,” said Paul Chodak, executive vice president of Generation. “We will continue to help them transition to new opportunities as we change the way we generate power for our customers.”

At least half a dozen other AEP employees have transferred from fossil-fuel plants to jobs at North Central. From wind technicians and engineering positions, to environmental coordinators and maintenance, there are a wide variety of opportunities.

“It’s very automated,” Hull said, “but generating power is generating power, so a lot of the control systems are similar. It feels more like a distribution setup because it is so huge.”

“It’s pretty cool,” Pitts said. “I talk to a lot of landowners, do safety checks on crews and make sure the equipment is in good working order.

“The teamwork is great, it’s not like you’re on this island by yourself. We all work together.”

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