Testing, cleaning at wind turbine an adrenaline rush
March 25, 2011
By Amy Sunseri
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Imagine being a specialty window cleaner for cleaning the outside windows on skyscrapers. It takes a gutsy individual who thrives on adrenalin rushes to take on this role, a potentially dangerous one in which a sudden wind and the wrong conditions can cause an individual to make a deadly plunge.
Now, envision an even more specialized role in which an individual climbs a ladder to the top of a gigantic wind turbine to inspect and clean the blades and assure they are in proper working order before rappelling down its shaft, inspecting it along the way. It happened on Fort Huachuca, March 15, when Fort Huachuca's gigantic wind turbine was inspected and cleaned, making it one step closer to being put into operation.
From the bottom of the tower to the tip of the blade at the 12 o'clock position, the wind turbine here stands at nearly 300 feet. Imagine rappelling from that. That's just what employees with Premier Services are doing as part of the turbine's testing.
For the past few weeks, Premier Services employees have been installing vortex generating strips and cleaning the outside of the tower. The VG strips help with the wind and production of the blade once the turbine is up and running.
"We basically will climb the tower, rig up our ropes and climb out," said Ken Myers, president and owner of Premier Services. Adding, "We will suspend down the side of the tower or the blade - whatever part we have to work on - and do the work we need to do."
The wind turbine's blade turns vertically at a 90-degree angle, and the rope technicians rappel down its face. There is a secondary line they lasso around the blade to help keep them positioned into their bosun's chair, a 12-inch by 24-inch board they sit on to do the work.
The rope technicians could be hanging from the tower for up to five hours or more, depending on the work that needs to be done.
"You're getting paid for an adrenaline rush," said Cory Woodsum, a rope technician with Premier Services.
Premier Services, located in Portland, Ore., was contracted for the job by Nordic Windpower, the turbine's manufacturer. Premier Services recently added wind turbines to their services. Myers said they mainly do cleanings on high-rise building windows.
"It's a little nervous for a few seconds. ... On buildings, at least, you're next to it; here in the tower, you've got exposure where you're out in the middle of nowhere. So it's got a different sensation to it," Myers explained.
Before employees rappel, they go through rope technicians training. "We train for self-rescue ... all the rigging that has to take place, the use of all the equipment." The employees have to be recertified every two years.
Getting to the top of the turbine is another challenge. Those headed to the top have to climb 240 rungs on a ladder, which takes an average of about 20 minutes.
Once up and running, the 110-ton wind turbine needs a wind speed of about nine miles per hour in order for the blades to begin rotating. When the wind reaches about nine miles per hour, the turbine will automatically start, point itself into the direction of the wind and make changes with the wind direction.
The wind turbine project started about four and a half years ago. The goal is for Fort Huachuca to go green by being able to produce its own power. But, before that can happen here or at any other military installation, the turbine needs to undergo extensive testing.
Once the turbine is up and running, staff at the Electronic Proving Ground on post will test the wind turbine for a year. EPG will test the turbine against radar to see if it interferes with frequencies and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Fort Huachuca's wind turbine is located on Garden Canyon Road at the detour to DeConsini Hill.