What it’s like to be a wind-turbine technician, where workers start for the good wages and stay for the adrenaline and panoramic views

A rope access technicians stands on top of a wind turbine
  • Energy companies like GE and Vestas rely on legions of technicians to keep wind turbines working.
  • An outage of just one tower can jeopardize a company’s service contract at a 54-tower field.
  • Andrew Slate, who has worked in the industry for five years, described a typical day on the job.

There are more than 65,000 land-based wind turbines in the US. To keep all of those pieces of equipment in service, large firms like GE and Vestas – and a host of smaller ones – employ legions of wind-turbine technicians, or wind techs.

There were nearly 7,000 wind techs in the US in 2020, and the occupation is one of the fastest-growing jobs tracked by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, with an expected 68% increase in new jobs by 2030. The base median wage is $US27 ($AU36) per hour, or $US54,000 ($AU72,410) per year, but overtime hours and other payments can significantly increase those earnings.

Andrew Slate is a newly hired wind tech for Vestas who has worked in the wind industry in various other roles for the past five years. He’s now part of a team that services wind fields in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, with some sites having upwards of 200 to 400 towers.

In an interview with Insider, Slate described the typical day in the life of a wind tech, based on his own experience. The following questions and answers have been edited for clarity.

Insider: What is your role now?

Slate: I report to the regional manager, and me and my cousin are on a crew together. We just jump from site to site in our region and help, whether they need us a week here in Texas or two days in Oklahoma.

Sometimes a tower takes 20 to 30 minutes, but it depends on the nature of the repair. If we do a gear-box swap up-tower, it could take us three days to a week depending on the crane company, the wind, and the weather. There’s so many factors that factor into completion of work.

What does an average day look like?

I wake up at 5:00 am to be at the site by 7:00 am.

You have your safety meeting first thing every morning to be aware of any new or potential threats coming such as dangerous weather, lightning, hornets in a tower.

After you find out what jobs you’re going to be doing for the day, you go out to the shop, load up your truck and hit the road. We always have two people at a tower no matter what, just in case somebody needs a rescue.

On a great day you usually get done about 3 or 4 pm. On a really bad day you may be there ’till 11 o’clock at night – you may have to work 18 hours straight.

Why would you need to work so late?

The customers sometimes want a base efficiency rate for what the towers are producing. If a site has 54 towers, and they’re rated at two megawatts a piece, you typically want 95% to 97% of those 54 towers at peak two megawatt production.

If the company doesn’t meet its goals, it can lose the contract for that site and another another large company will take over maintenance for the field.

A rope access technician carries out maintenance service on a wind turbine blade

What are the physical challenges?

Before you can work they have you free climb with about 40 to 50 pounds of gear, including the harness, the fall protection system, and some other things you may have to carry up with you.

Free climbing can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, but with a climb-assist system it takes me on average six minutes.

The towers are usually around 300 feet (91.44m) tall, and in the summer it can be pretty hot -upwards of about 120 to 130 degrees inside.

Can you see yourself doing a different job?

I know guys that started 15 years ago and would never ever dream of quitting until they retire. You build that awesome rapport with everyone around you and in essence it’s all about being your brother’s keeper and providing for your family.

Being on the road for so long does take a toll on your mental health, but you get addicted and crave the views and the adrenaline whenever you get up-tower. And the pay is great.