Some say that a wind turbine technician is the backbone of the wind industry. Many of us know or have met wind techs, but don’t have a good understanding of their day-to-day work life. If you think anyone could do their job, think again. It takes a special type of person to climb tall turbines, hang in the air while repairing blades, and perform repairs on heavy equipment in the nacelle. Fred Sellers, who was recently promoted to site manager for GE (www.ge-energy.com), worked as a wind tech for four years and shares what it’s really like to be a wind turbine technician.
How and why did you get into this industry?
Living in Abilene, Texas, the wind industry is all around you. As a retired Army officer and student at the FAA Airframe and Power Plant Technician School, I was looking for work in a technical field. I found out about an opportunity with GE through a career fair and applied for a technician position at my first opportunity.
What does being a wind turbine technician entail?
I spent four years working as a wind technician and every day was a little different. I worked on a troubleshooting team, which involved spending my days as an “industrial detective” solving unknown turbine issues. I would be dispatched to a turbine that was having an issue and spend my time trying to solve the problem of why the turbine wasn’t running. It involved a lot of climbing and a fair amount of traveling. The work was challenging but incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. In my role now, I am leading a team of 32 technicians at Panther Creek in West Texas where we maintain 305 turbines.
Give us a breakdown of a typical workday.
On a typical day, I get into the office around 6:30 a.m. and plan out the day. We determine what work needs to be accomplished and who will be dispatched to which turbines. When the crew arrives we have an environment, health, and safety discussion, plan for the weather, discuss special projects, and then the crew is sent out to do the day’s work.
Our site has a number of special projects, which can include borescope inspections, gearbox repairs, blade repairs, and pitch battery change outs. Working as a site manager requires a lot of communication with the customer to ensure they are aware of everything happening throughout the site, the status of maintenance, and special projects. Also, managing a team of technicians calls for verifying that the work is completed thoroughly while following all environment, health, and safety practices.
What is the hardest part about your job?
Working as a technician is demanding on your body, especially for folks over 50. Between working long hours, climbing turbines multiple times a day, and dealing with extreme heat in the summer and cold in the winter, it is difficult. Then add the mental frustration from a demanding management position. In this business, we talk a lot about being an industrial athlete which means that you need to take care of your physical health, well-being, and train your body for the work.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
One of the most rewarding parts of the job is the people you get to work with. The wind industry attracts a breed of people that are hardworking, passionate, helpful, and in general, enjoyable to be around. While working as a troubleshooting technician, I was lucky enough to have a great partner that I worked with for three years. We worked together as a team tackling tough challenges in the field and looking out for one another, in what can inherently be a dangerous industry.
What’s more, solving difficult challenges in the field was incredibly satisfying as well. Working hard to uncover a problem and then figuring out how to solve it is rewarding. And in the wind industry, you are solving those puzzles outdoors, in the countryside, working with your hands – it is a great feeling.
How do you handle staying on top of new technology, such as GE’s universal gearbox?
Technicians are often pulled in to help with the commissioning of new sites with GE technology. This provides a great opportunity to learn about what’s being offered in new units. In addition, GE provides regular training for technicians to introduce new technology and procedures.
Tell us one thing about wind techs people may not know?
It takes a special breed of person to become a wind technician. You have to be physically able to handle the strain that climbing the turbine puts on your body and you have to be smart enough to solve technical challenges on the equipment. There is also a lot of risk. GE has multiple procedures in place to keep people safe. They do as much as they can, but in the end it’s the technicians in the field who live it every day and must enforce safe work practices.
What would you recommend to new wind techs or people considering the profession?
I would tell them that it is an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable profession. If you think it might be right for you –give it your best shot. Companies such as GE offer a number of internship programs, which are a great way to try it out and get a good sense of what your career or job will be like.
What is your outlook on the future of wind power?
Although the wind industry is changing, I don’t see it going anywhere or being forgotten. I think wind power is here to stay. WPE