Professional climber Jessica Kilroy on scaling new heights as a wind turbine technician

The renewable energy sector is one of the fastest growing industries, offering job opportunities and training to many. With giant wind turbines supplying more and more of the world’s clean energy, their maintenance is essential.

When wind turbines break down, they need to be fixed fast. For professional climber and conservationist, Jessica Kilroy, finding a job as a wind turbine technician was a dream come true. While the rock climber makes dangling a 350-feet-height look a “piece of cake”, her path to becoming a wind turbine technician has not been without its personal challenges as she revealed her journey to Great Big Story.

According to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), “employment of wind turbine service technicians, also known as windtechs, is projected to grow 108% from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations”.

Jessica Kilroy, who is employed by the Santa Cruz-based Rope Partner, is currently one of only two women among 75 wind technicians at the company working as a rope-access technician to service wind turbines.

In an interview with Sierra Magazine, Jessica Kilroy said: “The job requires advanced rock-climbing and rope-rigging skills. Technicians work in high wind speeds on turbine towers that are between 262 and 328 feet tall. First we climb a ladder in the inside of the tower and anchor our ropes. Then we rappel off the nose cone and secure ourselves to the blunt side of the wind turbine blade. Our repair supplies are then hauled up in buckets.”

The wind technician has to travel a lot as part of her job, and often outside of the US. Each job is around four to six weeks in a different location.

Jessica Kilroy added: “When you’re up on a tower, you have a main rope and a backup. In my opinion, this is safer than driving to work every day. For some jobs, you can be up there from six to eight hours, so you have to train your body to work in high winds.

“Even on a low-wind day you’ll get bucked around, since you’re up really high. And you have to be careful, because one side of the wind turbine blade is so sharp that it could cut your rope. Blades are tricky—they have many layers, and each turbine’s blades are different, so you’ll often be on the phone with the engineers while up in the air.”

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea

 

 

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