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Climbing a wind turbine tower requires strict adherence to safety procedures and the oversight of properly trained and certified technicians. It is a physically demanding task and temperatures inside the tower can become hot, especially while wearing the necessary climbing gear. There are hazards within the tower that could cause trips, slips, cuts, or electrical shocks.
Technicians receive training in a variety of skills to safely conduct their work. They must be certified to perform high angle rescue and self –rescue from a tower. They can only climb when at least two certified people are onsite to minimize the risk associated with any problems that might arise. Due to the dangers with high voltage in or near the tower, the turbine must be de-energized prior to a climb.
The towers have multiple sections that vary in height between 60 and 100 feet. Each section has a grated steel platform to minimize risk of falling debris and assist the technicians with locations to perform their work. Only one climber can ascend one section at a time to avoid accidents. The safety harnesses are secured to the climber and have multiple hooks and mechanisms to maintain a point of contact with the tower at all times. As the climbers scale the ladder on the inside wall of the turbine, they attach themselves to a cable that runs the vertical length of the tower. In case of a fall, the climber’s fall arrest system will catch on the cable and prevent injury. When a climber detaches from the cable he or she must first hook to another secure contact point on the turbine before taking a step.
The nacelle has key drivetrain, generator, electronics, and communication systems that need to be maintained and require technicians to frequently make climbs. Should the need arise, turbines have multiple points up tower from which to escape on the external side of the structure. A bay door in the nacelle as well as several hatches in the nacelle and hub can be used to descend with the proper safety gear. In addition, the towers on Gundersen Health System’s Envision® wind project site in Cashton, WI, have a service lift installed that can be used to transport tools, parts, or people. The service lift has a motor and rides on cables up and down the tower in a similar fashion to a dumbwaiter. State codes regulate the use of service lifts and whether or not they are appropriate for transporting people. They must be inspected and permitted at frequent intervals.
Taking a trip to the top of a wind turbine is a thrilling experience but not one for people who have a fear of heights or a medical condition that could compromise their safety.