Dare devil jobs blow in with wind industry - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Dare devil jobs blow in with wind industry


NEAR SCHALLER, Iowa (KTIV) -- You probably don't even give them a second glance anymore. Wind turbines have become nearly as common as barns and silos here in Northwest Iowa, but what goes on inside and up top, isn't so common.

They look so simple.

"It's just a metal pipe with a blade sticking out," says MidAmerican wind turbine technician Steve Anderson.

But that metal pipe is filled with a series of wires, churning out 1.5 megawatts of power -- enough to juice up to a thousand homes. All that power demands a lot of upkeep.

"Tool up, head out, do it," says technician Jason Clausen.

Easier said than done. Clausen and Anderson are part of a growing green-collar workforce in Northwest Iowa. They say one of the steepest challenges of doing their job, is just getting there.

"The climb is the biggest, to get up here to our office," Clausen says.

They don't have the luxury of an elevator, or even stairs. It's 212 feet, and more than 250 rungs of ladder.

"The first climb I did, we came up here and did a maintenance and then we went down, come up, did another one, and we did another one that same day. And I got a pretty good idea of what we were doing," Clausen says.

Their trip is split up into four sections, the longest, a sweat-inducing 90 feet. They make several climbs every day. For them, it's just a five-minute ascent.

"About the second deck every day, it's like, 'What am I doing here?'" Clausen says.

By the last deck, the swaying lets you know, you're about 200 feet high. It's called the "yaw deck," the last stationary part of the structure before the top, which is the nacelle.

The 57-ton nacelle holds everything from the gear box to the generator, and it's where the blades are mounted. It contains a control panel that can do just about anything to keep the turbine up and running, from the pitch of the blades, to the angle the turbines catch the wind.

Anderson says, "You get up here in your own world and you don't have to worry about anyone looking over your shoulder and when you're done, it's got to run before you go home."

"You've got to know your wiring diagrams, schematics, you've got to understand PLCs," Clausen said.

They're basically electricians in the air, unphased by the altitude. It's not a job for everyone.

"There's a lot of people that think they can. They get up here and they try it a few days and decide they don't want to do it anymore," Anderson said.

The part that separates the land lovers from the wind walkers is a trip to the very top -- the turbine's roof.

"When it's not windy outside, that's the lunchroom upstairs," Clausen said.

But there's plenty of work, too. Up top is where they make sure the FAA lights are still blinking, the weather vane is still collecting data and the blades are bolted in nice and tight.

"If you're not careful on top, it'll blow you off the side," Clausen said.

Weather is always on the top of their minds. From scorchers, when it's can get well over 100 degrees in the sun, to wicked winters.

"Below zero out, we had the top off and the winds were getting ready to pick up," Anderson said.

Mother Nature amplifies her fury the further up you float. But when wind is the resource you round up, she's more like a co-worker, who's just a little tough to deal with every now and then.

Clausen says, "If it's hailing, you better be hittin' the ground."

"It's just a challenge, every day it's something different," Anderson said.

Compared to most jobs, that's an understatement.

Online Reporter: Zach Tecklenburg

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