From the heights
Who can forget the iconic image of workers eating on a beam while building the Empire State Building? There's no need to go quite that far to find a similar scene in Spain. In 1961, a team of technicians were 150 metres up in the air building the high-voltage towers for the lines crossing the Bay of Cadiz. And a very similar- though much safer - scene has just been repeated during replacement of the cables and electrical elements of these two giants of industrial engineering.
Jose Antonio Corbacho is a technician who has always worked at height. "I was 20 when I joined Endesa on 1 July 1987. Everyone called me the kid. When they needed someone to scale a high-voltage pylon to change something, they sent the kid - I loved it", he recalls, fearlessly watching the work now done by his younger colleagues from his vantage point 50-floors up in these towers.
"I'm not frightened by this. I love my job. But you have to let the young people learn. Let them experience this precision work, where you have to concentrate ferociously, performing every movement determinedly," he says, while analysing his colleagues' work. "Now I do the supervising, but I've been hanging there in my time. And I can assure you the security measures were not what they are now. We climbed up with a belt around our waist and a rope to anchor yourself when you got to where the work needed to be done. That was all the safety we had. But you never thought about the height when you were up there, just about the job that needed doing," he recalls while continuing to monitor the replacement of the cables for the towers.
As the workers descend one by one, they all greet Jose Antonio. He is their reference point. "No one can stop him, the youngest ones say: he climbs the 800 steps of the spiral staircase as if it were his home," they laugh, while removing the safety equipment that has enabled them to climb what was the tallest infrastructure in Cadiz until the Constitution Bridge was built.
"My wife looks at the weather forecast and tells me to be more careful if there is wind or rain, and she says the same thing to my son, who has inherited my passion for working at height. He's been up here too," he says, pointing to the chain of insulators suspended from the iconic towers, "in fact, he has a picture of working on these towers in his living room, and so do I. Imagine what it's like when the two of us get together. We start talking about electricity towers as though they were the most normal thing in the world, and my wife can't take it," he laughs.
Jose Antonio never switches off while he is speaking. He is always watching the work being done. "We have been preparing this work for almost a year. These towers are unique feats of industrial engineering. They were designed by an Italian engineer and inspired by the Messina Towers and the Moscow Television Tower, which was built in 1922. The challenge was to connect Cadiz, and this was considered the best system at the time. There are six cables stretching more than 2,500 metres each across the bay, and these have a tension to keep the cables upright as if nine cars were pulling each cable from each end. Changing it has been a challenge. People think they just have to flick a switch, and everything is automatic. But there is a lot of work behind the scenes. We have to do a lot of maintenance for the facilities, the pylons, and then there are our colleagues our in the field checking the lines," he says, visibly excited.
"In this job you can never lower your guard. If you do, your work suffers. And I want to keep working. I love my job. I like thinking that what I do, what all my colleagues do, enables that switch to work. I have no plans to retire in the short term. But when I do and I come to the beach in Cadiz with my grandson, I'll be able to say to him, you see those towers that are so tall, well, your grandfather has been up them”.
José Antonio Corbacho Tirado
Technical Manager of HV Lines - Andalucia and Extremadura HV area.
The legacy we will be
The legacy that we will be is a reflection of the just energy transition in Spain through its protagonists.
It's a project sponsored by Endesa created by the documentary photographer Álvaro Ybarra Zavala. Álvaro is witnessing our process of change, telling the stories of the real protagonists of this change through his photographs.