KODIAK, Alaska - Walkers and joggers thronged Pillar Mountain, but while many enjoyed the cloud-streaked horizon from the mountain's summit, no one had as good a view as Orlando Muentes and Muhammed Oladineji.
In a tiny, swaying basket 260 feet in the air, the two men weren't relaxing Thursday. Instead, they wielded paint rollers as part of a team maintaining Kodiak Electric Association's Pillar Mountain wind turbines.
"We take advantage when we get a day like this," said Nemesis Armstead, the lead technician of the three-man crew for Wind Energy Services.
As the men performed their work, a few hundred yards away, KEA's three new turbines spun, generating electricity for Kodiak.
Those turbines began pumping electricity into Kodiak's grid this week, and as a result KEA announced Thursday that it is halving its fuel surcharge from almost 4 cents per kilowatt/hour to less than 2 cents.
While the new turbines have grabbed attention, Kodiak's three existing turbines are also getting a caring hand, but this job is a bit tougher.
Armstead, Muentes and Oladineji treated the new turbine blades on the ground, before they were raised into place.
Coating the leading edges of the older turbine blades requires a climb into thin air.
The painters' platform is an aluminum basket like the one used by window washers who work on high-rise buildings.
Instead of clinging to a wall of glass, however, they're suspended by a brace of ropes and braced against the blade with another rope. In the gently swaying basket, they use hand rollers to apply the gray paint, one thin layer at a time, until 40 feet of each blade's leading edge is coated twice.
The paint protects the fiberglass blades from gouges caused by weather and windblown debris.
It takes about a day and a half for each blade to get a new coat. Each turbine needs a full workweek of clear, calm weather to finish.
On Thursday, they spent their time on Turbine No. 6, the closest to downtown Kodiak and the most visible from the city. The other five turbines atop Pillar were spinning with a mechanical whir, but No. 6 was frozen in place to allow the men to work.
The Pillar Mountain wind farm will not reach full production until this fall, when upgrades at the nearby substation are complete. Until then, the wind turbines can generate about 20 percent of Kodiak's electricity. When the upgrades are finished, wind will provide more than a third of Kodiak's power.
At Turbine No. 6, the painters' rollers are part of KEA's strategy to keep that power coming. Ice and snow will blast the turbines this winter, as they always do, but if the painters have done their jobs right, the blades will keep spinning and Kodiak's power will keep flowing.