Changing the oil on any gear box is generally a messy proposition, but when the gear box is 265 feet above the ground and the volume of oil is in the hundreds of gallons well, you've got a job on your hands.
John Kennebeck runs Gear Box Oil Change out of his Lake Wilson home, but he's on the road so much he says his office is his cell phone.
"I joined the Army at 16," Kennebeck said. "I was in Germany for a while. I lived in California and Washington state. I met my wife in Oklahoma, she's from Holland, Minnesota and we moved up here. I built hog barns and big construction, started working turbines six years ago."
Wind turbines need oil changes like any other engine with moving parts, every three to five years. With thousands of wind turbines in the region and more going up all the time, that's a lot of oil changes, and a lot of climbing.
Before Kennebeck started Gear Box Oil Change he worked for Enxco, where he learned to service the company's 4,000 turbines.
"They sent me to GE's wind turbine school in Schenectady, New York in 2007," Kennebeck said. "I worked for them for three years, and they needed oil changes. They had a company back east that didn't do such a good job, so I asked them to give me a chance."
Kennebeck got together with an old friend Robert Sones, a retired fireman who knew about high-volume pumps. Then he got together with three friends who happened to be engineers and designed a whole new approach to changing turbine gear box oil.
"The existing rigs didn't have filter systems," Kennebeck said. "They were just pumping oil up and down. We filter the new oil so it's about 20 times cleaner, and flush out the gear box. You must filter the oil or it'll be contaminated."
The rig they designed has four tanks for new oil, used oil, a flush tank and a rinse tank. The oil passes through a series of in-line magnets to remove iron filings from the oil, as well as micron filters.
"The heat build-up causes varnish to form," Kennebeck said, "and the additive moly attracts water, which builds up and that's a bad deal. An oil change is about $6,000 but it's cheaper than replacing the gear box at $180,000 to $200,000."
Kennebeck travels all over the country servicing wind turbines, but foresees a time he'll have to move on to other ventures.
"When I started nobody knew how to do an oil change, now they're learning," Kennebeck said. "I think I dan do good for another five to eight years and retire. Most of the secrets are out now."