Whir, whoosh atop wind farm

Source: ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES • Posted: Monday, July 22, 2013


Twenty-three stories up, PSE engineer Dan Rottler clips his safety harness after emerging from a hatch atop the housing enclosing a wind turbine. Behind him are a giant blade and many of the 149 turbine towers on Whiskey Dick Mountain in Kittitas County.

If you have acrophobia, kinetosis or ancraophobia, Whiskey Dick Mountain is not for you.

Because this wind farm called Wild Horse in Kittitas County has 149 turbine towers gently swaying in almost constant winds, 23 stories up.

Plant manager Dan Rottler climbs out a trap door and snaps his safety harness into the two rails lining the sides of the covering over the generator, 230 feet above the high desert of Central Washington. In the distance he can see

Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount Hood.

It’s difficult to gauge the sheer size of everything until you’re up close, really close, like standing atop the bus-sized powerhouse to which the blades are attached.

Inside the gearbox, the generator and transformer turn wind into wattage, each making enough power to keep 470 homes in steady supply.

The journey to the top is difficult. Workers have to be limber enough to slide on their stomachs or backs, over or under machinery, to reach trap doors designed for the trim and fit.

Rottler has worked at just about every type of generating station, including thermal, hydro, wind, solar and diesel power. This is his favorite.

There is only a slight whir, a whoosh of blades turning, and the wind.

The Puget Sound Energy engineer sports a Washington State University shirt and a large Cougar flag in his office.

His only phobia is WSU losing the annual Apple Cup to the Huskies, he says.

Unlike most wind facilities, this one has a visitor center, open from April through November.

But, unlike workers, visitors will have to appreciate all the views from the ground.