If you're afraid of heights, then clinging to the side of an 80-metre wind turbine tower is likely not the job for you.  

The Wind Energy Institute of Canada (WEICan) recently discovered it had a problem inside one of the turbine blades at its wind farm in Norway, P.E.I.

The crawling platform allowed workers to repair

This is the first time on P.E.I. the crawling platform was used to repair turbines. It was brought in from Quebec. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The turbines — the tallest structures in the area, are tempting targets for lightning strikes.

To prevent damage, each blade has a lightning protection cable inside that runs from the tip of the blade, through the rotor assembly, and down through the tower to the ground. 

If a turbine is hit by a bolt of lightning, the millions of volts are safely carried into the ground. 

But during a routine inspection a few months ago, workers discovered one of the inside cables had detached from the wider part of the blade, leaving the turbine unprotected from lightning strikes. 

Going to great heights to repair P.E.I. turbine0:50

'A good investment'

"Technically, it could destroy the entire turbine," said Scott Harper, CEO of WEICan. 

"They're a little over $2 million apiece so a little bit of wire to protect it from lightning is a good investment."

Scott Harper CEO

Scott Harper, CEO of WEICan, says it's important to protect turbines from being damaged by lightning. 'Technically, it could destroy the entire turbine.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

The turbine was still able to operate over the last month while WEICan waited for repairs — unless there were thunderstorms in the area.

"We monitor basically right through over to New Brunswick and I think it's around 50 km away that we would put those safety precautions in place."

A special platform

Those precautions included shutting down the turbine, and ensuring the unprotected blade was pointed down. 

But repairing the inside cable at the tip of the blade is a big challenge. 

Turbine wide shot.

You have to look carefully to spot the platform clinging to the turbine on the right. The wind farm is located in Norway, P.E.I. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"What we've had to do in the past, you would get a crane and you would have a man basket on that crane which you would hang," said Harper.

But that basket often swayed in the wind.

So the company doing the warranty work on the turbine, DeWind, hired a Quebec company to bring in its special platform to do the repairs. 

Access without a crane

"This is the first time we've seen them use this product," said Harper, although the Quebec company said it has used the platform at other wind farms on the Island.

"It's attaches to the turbine and they pull it up with wires and motors from the ground which allows them access without needing a crane."

tip of cable

Scott Harper from WEICan shows the point on the blade where the inside lightning cable begins. A small square was cut next to it to fish out the cable and reconnect it. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Once the platform crawled up the outside of the tower, workers cut a small hole through the tip of the blade to reach the damaged cable.

The turbine is now protected from lightning damage, and the platform was taken back to Quebec.

Harper has suggested the Wind Energy Institute may look at whether it's feasible to buy one of the platforms to service all of the wind farms on the Island.

The turbine on the left at WEICan's wind farm

WEICan's turbine on the left had to be shutdown during thunder storms after one of its lightning cable protectors detached. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Oliver Reynoso with DeWind agreed that the platform is a faster and more economical way of performing repairs in the air.

"It's a very common practice in this industry, since cranes tend to have more cost associated with them," he said.

"These types of platforms are hooked to a trailer or in the smaller units they fit in the back of a pickup truck, making them easy to get to a site."