“Turbine Cowboys” is a new reality series premiering on The Weather Channel this spring, and anyone with an interest in clean energy should check it out. Despite the highly mechanized nature of wind turbine construction and the use of robotic devices for maintenance, the human element is still very much at work. Turbine Cowboys is an important reminder that while renewable energy is cleaner and safer in terms of emissions and overall public health impacts, that does not necessarily translate into a low-risk work environment.
Wind and Workers
The Turbine Cowboys crew has been filming as far south as Baja California and up north to Alaska, which is a hint about the direction it’s going in. Along with the hazards you’d expect from working around electricity and huge pieces of equipment, and occupying a workspace far above the ground, the workers have to deal with rain and snow, extreme heat and cold, and of course, wind. The show will also cover the “boot camp” training received by turbine workers. As far as green jobs go, it’s hard to imagine one that’s tougher.
In the Words of a Wind Power Worker
The hazards of wind power work are aptly summed up in a posting on the Turbine Cowboys production company Facebook page (typos corrected):
“To say they are not dangerous is ignorant. The amount of safety classes, first aid and rescue training, OSHA certs, ect. is never ending. I work on turbines every day and find new risks every day. I”m constantly reminded of how a simple slip at any point in my day can harm/kill myself or a co-worker.”
Another Turbine Cowboy
“Turbine Cowboy” is a play on the old John Travolta movie Urban Cowboy, so it stands to reason that the same title has come up in the past. Sure enough, somewhere in a record shop bin out there is a 45″ single, “Turbine Cowboy,” written and recorded in 1981 by a graduate of GE’s Field Engineering Program (FEP). The program dates back to 1966 and was initiated to train workers in conventional power generation and industrial equipment work. FEP graduates have some great stories of their own and you can read all about it at their website, turbinecowboy.com (the site is not affiliated with GE, by the way).
Turbine Cowboys: A Celebration of American Labor
As a side note, The Weather Channel Companies is owned by a consortium consisting of NBC Universal, The Blackstone Group and Bain Capital. Yes, that Bain Capital. Bain is perceived as an outfit that has made huge profits by eliminating jobs for U.S. workers, so it’s a little ironic that the company is connected (albeit remotely) to a show celebrating the skill, courage and resourcefulness of American labor, but whatevs. Turbine Cowboys is just one part of TWC’s upcoming “Braving the Elements” series on American workers that so far includes high-rise ironworkers and utility emergency repair crews. TWC expects to add more titles throughout the year.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.