Wind-turbine technicians are the workers who service the very top of towering wind farms.
The median wage is $27 per hour, and most jobs don't require a four-year degree.
Employment is projected to increase 68% from 2020 to 2030 - significantly faster than other sectors.
There are more than 65,000 land-based wind turbines across the US, according to the American Wind Energy Association, and more are coming online each year.
Each of the wind turbines that dots the landscape of a wind farm is generally made of a tower, blades, and a central unit called a nacelle. All three elements require specialists to install and maintain them throughout the life of a turbine.
The nacelles have the most going on, since that is the housing for the hub, generator, gearbox, brakes, and circuitry that convert the mechanical energy into electricity to send down to the power grid.
In order to make repairs, wind techs typically have to climb as high as 300 feet up the narrow tube of the tower to the nacelle while hauling up all the tools, computers, and safety gear needed to get the job done. The tallest towers often have lifts or other climbing aids, and while some tasks require climbing outside the nacelle, most routine work is done within the enclosure.
Other crews are used to inspect, repair, or clean the fiberglass blades, which requires workers to rappel down from the nacelle to complete the job while dangling hundreds of feet above the ground.
The median wage for wind techs is $27 per hour, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which works out to about $56,000 per year - about 33% higher than the national median earnings of $42,000.
A community college or technical degree is typically enough to qualify for the job, and many employers provide a year or more of on-the-job training. Most techs will need to understand electrical, hydraulic, braking, mechanical, and computers systems, as well as have first aid and rescue training.
With 6,900 workers in 2020, the field is small but one of the fastest growing in the entire economy, with BLS projections expecting a 68% increase in new jobs by 2030. That's nearly nine times faster than the projection for all other occupations tracked by the agency.
Beyond claustrophobia and acrophobia, a few things might dissuade someone from racing to find a wind-tech job.
For one thing, the schedule can be grueling. Most wind farms are located in remote areas, so travel times to job sites can take a long time. Plus, bad weather or other unpredictable events can knock out a turbine at any time of the day or night, and repairs need to happen as quickly as possible.
More importantly, the Labor Department says wind techs have one of the highest rates of injury and illness of all occupations. In particular, a 2017 study found that falls in the energy sector are quite common (though just a few are fatal) as are strains, sprains, and overexertion.
As the world shifts from carbon to renewable power sources, it will increasingly rely on workers like wind techs to do the high-risk jobs that keep the modern economy moving.
If you are a wind tech or a worker who has a job you consider high risk, please get in touch with Dominick Reuter via email. Responses to this story will be kept confidential.
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