Wild Wind Workers

Thursday 11th December at 9:00pm

This six-part series examines some of the most dangerous jobs in the world and profiles the men who risk their lives to put in an honest day’s work. The fifth episode of the series focuses on the construction workers responsible for building the huge turbines at one of the biggest wind farms in the US. Facing terrifying heights, gigantic parts and massive machinery, these men battle the elements in a bid to harness the power of Mother Nature.

Situated just 30 miles from the Canadian border, Ethridge, Montana, is one of the windiest places in the US. In this remote, inhospitable terrain, a new industry is exploding –wind-farm construction. With wind power the fastest-growing energy source in the world, hundreds of specialist construction workers are flooding to Montana to claim their share of the fortune. “This is going to be the new land of opportunity,” says Kurt Arentsen, the man responsible for the biggest wind farm project in the state. “It is a gold rush.”

Kurt is charged with overseeing the construction of 140 turbines in an area of 35 square miles, at a cost of some £200million. He and his 200-strong workforce are already behind schedule thanks to high winds and rain. Ironically, the very force the men have come here to exploit is threatening to derail the project. “The weather is our biggest challenge,” says Kurt. They now have just eight weeks to put up the first 70 turbines, but before work can begin, the men must get to know the site’s strict safety regime. “We are very focused on training,” says Kurt.

The task of putting up each turbine falls to two teams –the base team, which deals with the bottom two sections of the shaft; and the top-off team, which adds the top section of the shaft and the rotor blades. In charge of positioning the first section is heavy-lift crane operator Keith Miles. After taking a reading to ensure that the wind speeds do not exceed 35mph, he sets about moving the huge piece onto its foundations. The part weighs as much as seven double-decker buses, but must be moved with absolute accuracy to avoid damaging the control computer –and the other workers. “You can’t lose concentration when you’ve got all this responsibility in your hands,” says Keith.

While the middle section is lifted into position, two of the base team climb to the top of the first section and await the arrival of 52 tons of steel. “I’ve never fallen,” says Chris Cyr as he makes his way to the op
of the tower. “If you did fall, you’d be in a lot of trouble.” On this occasion, Chris and fellow climber Brian King make it to the top unharmed, but must now race against time to secure the middle section before bad weather sets in. “We need to get this one stacked,” says Brian. “It’s getting windy up here.”

With just two days left to complete the first turbine, it is time for the top-off team to take the reins –and new boy Oscar Scott has his first opportunity to shine. Like many of the workers at this site, Oscar has travelled thousands of miles to be here, and has brought his wife and child with him. Having risked everything for this job, Oscar needs to prove to his colleagues that he is up to the challenge. “There is a lot of pressure,” he says. “I want to be very precise –and very safe.” For his first task, the inexperienced Oscar must climb to the apex of the existing tower to secure the top section as it is lowered into position. “When you first step inside that tower and look up that ladder, it’s like looking at the stairway to heaven,” he says. If he conquers his nerves and performs well, he will be rewarded with six months of solid work –earning more than twice the amount he could earn at a regular construction project. But with big money comes big risks. The final part of the building process sees Oscar working 260ft in the air, where strong winds often make it difficult to stand. However, Oscar is not easily intimidated. “This is awesome –I have the best job in the world,” he concludes.

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