High energy

Gabe Bellebuono starts his workday above the clouds.


It’s a little after 7 am — the sun has just peeked over the horizon — when Islander Gabe Bellebuono clips into his fall protection rig and begins to climb. 

Over the past year or so, Bellebuono has had innumerable adventures, not the least of which is being hired as a wind technician for GE. The metalworker turned wind tech told The Times during a phone conversation that as of now, he can’t see himself in any other occupation. 

“I never wanted an office job, and certain aspects of the service industry don’t really appeal to me. I wanted a job that I can really enjoy, make some good money off of, and have the opportunity to go places,” Bellebuono said. “This job literally fell on my doorstep, and I felt like I would really be missing out if I passed by it.”

Bellebuono attributes much of his passion and interest to the place he grew up, and the people he was exposed to early on. He said Martha’s Vineyard was a wonderful place for him to grow up, especially because he was front and center for the initial planning and development of the first commercial-scale offshore wind energy project in the U.S., Vineyard Wind. Bellebuono was the first offshore wind tech in the country to go through the GE Renewable Energy Learning Center training program in Schenectady, N.Y. Richard Andre, president of Vineyard Power, was the first to suggest that Bellebuono apply for the wind tech program. “He was talking to me about this years before it even became a thing,” Bellebuono explained. During the training, Bellebuono learned the ins and outs of wind technology, engineering, safety, and rescue. He studied electrical engineering, ecology, and took some more specific wind turbine–related introductory courses. Once he was officially hired by GE, he was assigned to a turbine site in Oklahoma called Persimmon Creek. There he will work on onshore turbines for six months to a year before heading offshore. “There is a requirement for having time onshore just because offshore is more dangerous, relatively speaking,” Bellebuono said. 

At the Persimmon site, Bellebuono said there are a little less than 100 turbines in operation — GE 2.5 MW units, to be specific. He said it took a bit of social adjustment after moving out to Oklahoma, having just lived in Moab, Utah. “There’s not a whole lot to do out here, and it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere,” Bellebuono laughed. “But I’ve still really been enjoying my work, my art, and I’ve been trying to skydive as much as I can.” 

At some point within the next year or so, Vineyard Wind is hoping to have the first few turbines installed, at which point Bellebuono will enjoy his work shifts out at sea. Instead of scaling 300 feet up to his office as he does currently, he will be climbing to a dizzying 853 feet. But despite his self-admitted fear of heights, Bellebuono has never let elevation stop him. He is an experienced skydiver — a hobby and passion that he got into right around the time he was training to be a wind tech. He said his career climbing and fixing turbines and his passion for jumping out of airplanes coalesced inadvertently. “You get used to the height. It’s not that big of an adrenaline rush climbing the tower. It just makes you pay extra attention, it makes you realize that you can’t get complacent,” Bellebuono described.

Now that he has settled into his daily routine, the newly minted wind tech is performing regular maintenance tasks, working with the rest of his crew to make crucial fixes, and is receiving real world experience in preparation for his future role out on the water. Over time, Bellebuono has gained an additional appreciation for wind energy, and all that goes into making those blades spin. “These turbines make you admire all aspects of this kind of tech. You look at them from the outside, and they look pretty stable. Then you realize that each of those blades weighs many tons, and the turbine is constantly swaying,” Bellebuono said.

Upon starting his day, Bellebuono and his team do some stretching, and are assigned a project to work on. He heads to the tower, clips his safety harness onto a heavy-duty belay system, and starts to ascend. It usually takes about 10 or 15 minutes to reach the top of the tower, but there are several workstations situated at various positions within the assembly. “There’s first deck, sattle deck, yaw deck, and then you get up into the nacelle. If you go up through the nacelle, you can get onto the top of the turbine and drop down into the hub between the blades when they are rabbit-eared,” Bellebuono explained. The hub holds all the pitch motors, grease, and other essential components. 

Apart from the pride he feels being selected as one of just over 200 GE wind techs, and getting to work up above the clouds, Bellebuono said he gets immense satisfaction from working in the alternative energy field. “I think we could be utilizing this technology more, and if we utilized it more, maybe then we would be able to progress the technology more — whatever be the case, it’s pretty incredible when you fully realize how these structures can do what they do,” he said. 

Other than working at GE, Bellebuono has enjoyed a whole lot of slacklining (he just set his personal record for 45 minutes on the line without falling). He’s also planning on doing a lot more skydiving, and wants to work on his forge whenever he has the free time. “I’m going to try and do a Mr. Bill, which is where you jump out while holding onto another skydiver’s harness, then the guy you are holding onto pulls their chute. Other than that, I definitely want to set up the forge tonight and try to make some stuff,” Bellebuono said. 

Bellebuono suggests that for anyone who doesn’t quite know what kind of career they want, if they enjoy being outdoors and working on technology, they should look into becoming a wind tech. “This is one of those jobs where you are doing something fun and good when you go to work in the morning,” Bellebuono said. “These turbines are providing energy in a clean way, and you are one of the people who make them function properly.”