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The Wind Power Debate -- Tyler Resch

12/16/05 12:00AM
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(HOST) As Vermonters debate various proposals to generate electricity by wind power, historian Tyler Resch* recalls a successful experiment in wind power that goes back to pre-Pearl Harbor days.

(RESCH) In the fall of 1941, on a hilltop known as Grandpa's Knob near Rutland, a wind turbine began sending power into the lines of CVPS. One person who took a great interest in the Grandpa's Knob experiment was the late Bob Mitchell, publisher of the Rutland Herald.

I was privileged to edit an anthology of half a century of Mitchell's editorials, and one about the wind power project in particular comes to mind when I listen to the current debate. The following is an excerpt from a commentary he published in the Herald on Sept. 21, 1959 in response to a congressional debate of the time about the potential of wind power.

He said, quote:

"What the Associated Press aptly describes as a gust of enthusiasm appears to have swept a Congressional committee considering the possibility of developing power from wind. There are Americans who might be unkind enough to suggest that if there is any group that ought to know about the power of wind, Congress is it; but the fact remains that a proposal to harness
the West's air currents has stirred up official interest after a lapse of more than six years since Vermont zephyrs last turned a wheel commercially."

Remember -- it was Bob Mitchell who wrote this in 1959.
He continued:

"Power was successfully generated from wind and used in a commercial transmission line for the first time anywhere in the world [starting at] 6:56 p.m. on October 19, 1941, when the experimental wind turbine on Grandpa's Knob, just a few miles from Rutland, was keyed into the lines of the Central Vermont Public Service Corporation. Windpower continued intermittently
as a source of CVPS current for more than three and a half years until one of the eight-ton turbine blades snapped on March 26, 1945, and was never replaced."

"Because of wartime restrictions, the public never got to know much about the success of the experiment here in Vermont. Those who lived in the area, and doubtless thousands of transients, were aware of the turbine's existence, for its lazily turning blades atop Grandpa's Knob were visible for miles.

"So little was said about the project, however, and the shutdowns for alterations and ironing out of 'bugs' were sufficiently frequent, that when the project was abandoned after the 1945 smashup there was a general impression that the experiment had been,
on the whole, a failure."

"Those who were in close touch with the development know that
it was no failure. There were troubles, it is true. Such would be inevitable in any project pioneering a field so new."

"In the end, it was a structural failure that caused the huge blade to snap off and hurtle down the hillside. There was nothing wrong with the theory, as months of successful power output proved."

"In any event, Vermonters will have a special interest in following the project, if it is carried out. As in the case of so many other things, the idea was tried out here first. Wind-generated power
got its start on Grandpa's Knob."

That was the text of one of publisher Bob Mitchell's editorials in the Rutland Herald, in 1959. And it's a sure bet that he'd be taking a lively interest in wind developments atop Vermont's mountains today.

This is Tyler Resch, of Shaftsbury.

Tyler Resch is director of the Bennington Museum's research library and is the author or editor of a dozen books on Vermont heritage.

Grampa's Knob wasn't Vermont's only contribution to the development of wind power technology, as historian Bob McCullough tells us tomorrow morning.
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