Mountaineers wanted for this wind energy job

December 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
People in the wind energy business hope to hire 500,000 people in the next 10 years for all kinds of jobs, which means it looks like even mountain climbers should apply.

In the rustic Sacramento River delta grasslands near Birds Landing, a quiet revolution has been building on the horizon. We've entered a realm of mechanical behemoths almost 300 feet tall. They catch the wind, power distant neighborhoods, and for Caleb Wiley and Rose Haugher they keep the home fires burning in another way.

"It's an industrial job," said Haugher.

Interested in mountain climbing? In an industrial twist, that is what these two do. The gear goes is hoisted up outside the windmill and the workers climb by foot inside the windmill 267 feet straight to the top. It's one way up and the climbers have to repel down on the outside.

Windmills may be low maintenance, but they're not exactly no maintenance. They still develop problems that can be caused by anything from a lightning strike to leading edge dust erosion, and somebody has to go up there and fix them. It's a new kind of career with a twist and more than a few knots.

Haugher is a former English major and Wiley is a theology student. They work for a company called Rope Partner, based in Santa Cruz. Haugher brought her mountain climbing skills and Wiley his construction talents. Now, they're both what you call wind techs.

Wind is a growing field. Chris Bley is another climber who just happened to start Rope Partner back in 1999.

When asked if he knew what he was getting into, Bley said "I did, yeah. In the back of my mind I always kind of knew that this was going to be a new and big energy source and that I could employ a lot of people to do this work."

From the ground, it's a little like watching bugs. They make pretty good money, even for a so-called easy day of blade inspecting. Haugher and Wiley document the damage, they took photos, they went slowly, methodically, gracefully making their way down.

For this job, at the Shiloh II Wind Farm, you must be athletic, fearless, with trace jeans of a human fly. Mountaineers are preferred.


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