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Grid Wind Power: More Pre-history (1979 DOE bust)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- September 14, 2023

“I was in Boone, North Carolina, from 1977 through May 1983 at Appalachian State and, trust me, we got many laughs out of this windmill. Especially how it generated one MW of reliable electricity and, somehow, did so without the blades ever turning.”   – Victor Culpepper

On social media, environmental scientist Victor Culpepper remarked (above) about an early wind project with reference to an article, Ill-Fated Windmill Just Outside Boone (July 11, 2016). A previous MasterResource post recounted the 1940–45 Grandpa’s Knob grid wind power project in Vermont; the article below from North Carolina’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources summarizes a 1979 wind project.

On July 11, 1979, Boone celebrated “Windmill Day” with a street festival to dedicate NASA’s Mod-1, the world’s largest megawatt industrial windmill on Howard’s Knob.

The windmill was installed on the 4,400-foot peak as part of a program run by NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy to study wind power in response to the petroleum shortages of the 1970s OPEC oil embargo. The mammoth steel structure—which was 140 feet tall, 200 feet wide across the blades, and weighed more than 350 tons—had propellers supplied by Boeing and generator by General Electric.

The Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation ran the project locally to return electricity, anticipated to power 500 homes, to the energy grid.

A harbinger of the project’s fate, the winds only blew at about 6 miles per hour that first day, requiring manual rotation of the propeller blades. The windmill was soon plagued by terminal structural issues, inconsistent winds and negative public perception from complaints of noise, disrupted television reception and wasted public dollars.

Too costly to repair, the federal government dismantled and sold the windmill in 1983.

The windmill also became the centerpiece of pranks by Appalachian State University students. In one account, TV news cameras were met by students dressed in sheets, calling themselves “Wooshies” who worshipped the god Nay-zuh [that is, NASA].

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