The Wind on Grandpa's Knob


| January/February 1982



Navajo bicycle

108 Garfield Avenue, Madison, New Jersey 07940

Long before there was an international crisis in the Middle East and when our lives were paced by the steam trains and not the jet planes, our landscape was dotted with windmills. Before long though, cheap energy in the form of oil and gas began to take over their chores. Then came the rural electrification program and that creaking, squeaking, converter of solar energy became a thing of the past. Not until we realized that we were running out of cheap energy and some of our popular forms of fuel did we again look around to see if we could resurrect something useful from the past.

Everything from geothermal energy to the power of the ocean's tides was scrutinized. Among the many projects funded from the taxes that we pay was a program to develop our available wind energy.

From time to time in our national history, we tend to 're-invent' the wheel, in that media exploitation of daily events, tends to over emphasize things that seem to be new developments. But, in reality, these are old files revisited. Thus it is with the wind powered electrical generator of the size suitable for a power system. In 1941 the General Electric Company built a 1600 horsepower (1,250 kw) windmill generator for a Vermont public utility. It was erected on a mountain top in Vermont known locally as Grandpa's Knob. This machine was technically a success and ran until around 1945 at which time one of the blades was broken and the project was abandoned. The idea has remained fallow until recently.

Just what are the possibilities for supplying our energy needs from the natural and renewable forces of the wind? Potentially, of course, there are far more kilowatts of wind energy flowing across the contiguous United States than we could ever use if we could just harness them. That is the problem. Let us take a look at where things stand if only for the fun of knowing.

The cool wind that we feel blowing in our face on a warm summer day is the outward manifestation of solar energy at work, in one of its forms. I like to explain the phenomena in terms of my sailing days along the East Coast. On a warm summer morning the air is still and there are only the long low swells from far across the ocean hinting of things happening far away. As the sun gets up in the sky and the land begins to warm, the air rises over it. This upward thermal current would leave a vacuum at the surface if it were not for the cool air above the water area moving in to fill that space. And so it is that around noon on these days along the coast a sea breeze will spring up. As the sun sets, the reverse takes place. Measuring the velocity (as I have many times) it will run about 15 miles per hour.