As part of their everyday job, wind technicians often risk their lives climbing turbines to maintain electrical and mechanical equipment. The wind industry owes much of its success to these talented men and women who keep turbines running and wind farms safely online.
In this new series, we interview wind technicians to learn about what they do and what advice they’d recommend to others interested in the field. In this second install, we spoke to Krista Zappone, with Senvion USA.
Tell us about your career choice: where do you work now, and what inspired you to become a wind technician?
I work for Senvion USA, a sublet of the German manufacturing company, and am currently stationed at Eva Creek Wind Farm, one of their remote sites just outside Healy, Alaska. As I neared graduation from Eastern Washington University in 2012 (with a B.A. in Women and Gender Studies), I decided I wanted to work with my hands and learn how to “do” something. For me that meant something that offers a sense of accomplishment once the job gets done. Today, I help operate and maintain 12, MM92 CCV turbines (24-MW capacity) in the heart of Alaska’s unforgiving interior.
Where and how long did you train for your current role?
After university, I enrolled in a six-month wind-turbine service technician program at Northwest Renewable Energy Institute (NWREI). I started with Senvion as a temporary staffing agent in Washington State, and was eventually offered a full-time position at Eva Creek. This will be my fourth summer in Alaska.
What does your average day on the job look like?
An average day at Eva Creek varies greatly depending on the time of year. Outside temperatures can range from -40 to +70º F. There are no direct roads from where we live in town, so every morning our three-person team gets on a 4-wheeler and rides across a cat track on a rail bridge to where we park our company trucks. Then, we begin a 10-mile journey through the mountains to the operations and maintenance building where we discuss and begin the day’s task, which can include routine turbine inspections and maintenance or dealing with some type of breakdown or retrofit. There are many potential hazards to mitigate during any given day, from icing events or heat exhaustion. It is truly a land of extremes, but we always err on the side of caution. In severe storms, when there is concern about getting trapped onsite, our team will stay in and monitor the wind farm from our computers. Our turbines have a lot of icing protocols built into their software.
What is your favorite part of being a wind technician, and what do you find most challenging?
My favorite part of being a wind technician is the view! Eva Creek has a beautiful view of Mt. Denali when the skies are clear. Only a small percentage of people get to see the planet from this perspective. The job itself is also rewarding. I climb hundreds of feet to the nacelle and fix million-dollar machines — not everyone can say that. Being a part of the wind industry also means taking part in a better, more sustainable future, and I am proud to do my part.
What advice would you impart to others interested in joining the wind industry?
Go for it! The wind industry has a ton of potential and is still young enough that anyone — men or women of all backgrounds — can get involved and through several different ways. You can enroll in a short program like I did at NWREI, go the traditional route through college, or slowly try to gain relevant work experience. Wind turbines are beautiful machines that maintain a combination of electrical, mechanical, and hydraulic features. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert in each one. You just have to learn how the components all work together.