Even sitting down, Bryan Stewart and Connor Bennett need frequent breaks.
Of course, they’re sitting on a platform attached to the side of a helicopter hovering more than 100 feet in the air as they attach bird diverters on a newly constructed power line.
The power line stretches from the still-under-construction Cedar Bluff wind farm south of Cedar Bluff Reservoir in Trego and Ness counties to a Midwest Energy electrical substation southwest of Hays. There, the electricity produced by the wind farm will enter the grid for delivery to Westar Energy.
The Cedar Bluff wind farm joins a growing network of wind farms in northwest Kansas, including the Buckeye complex stretching from an area north of Hays west to the Ellis area, and a 48-megawatt wind farm near Alexander, half of its production going to the Kansas City, Kan. Board of Public Utilities and the other half going to Yahoo! Inc.
The power line is not yet energized, but the switch is expected to be thrown later this month as wind turbines are brought online.
Because of its location, the new line is being equipped with bird diverters — bright yellow pieces of plastic that encircle the top line and are designed to attract the attention of flying birds so they can avoid the lines.
They’re important because some species of birds — notably the slightly more than 300 highly endangered whooping crane that migrate thousands of miles each spring and fall — fly through the area en route to Texas for the winter and then back north to Canada in the spring.
But with the line already up in the air, installing the bird diverters requires taking to the air.
That’s where Stewart, from Alabama, and Bennett, from Idaho, come in.
They are the people who install the plastic devices, essentially rolling them onto the line. But they have to do it sitting on a platform outside the helicopter.
There’s also the downward wind from the helicopter rotor, which Stewart said will drop the temperature as much as 10 degrees, along with the wind.
As temperatures cool, that makes the job even colder, hence the need to switch off frequently to warm up.
“Warm up and give your hands a break,” Stewart said after coming down from installing dozens of the bird diverters on the line.
Stewart and Bennett are part of a four-man crew working for Maryland-based Air2, a helicopter-assisted utility construction company.
Stewart said it’s easier installing the bird diverters on a line that’s not yet energized because they don’t have to wear special equipment, such as a stainless-steel mesh embedded vest to help deflect the electricity.
Bennett called the operation similar to being “a bird on a wire.”