Sunday, May 19, 2013

From world’s first wind farm to world’s longest wheelchair hiking trails

By DAVID BROOKS
GREENFIELD – Visiting a piece of outdoor history unique to New Hampshire by strolling on a pathway isn’t unusual; doing it in a wheelchair, however, is something else.
“The organization is very proud of its role” in the world’s first wind farm, said Don Shumway, CEO of Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center. “It saw itself as contributing to energy technology – to ‘green technology,’ although they didn’t use that term at the time.”
The world’s first wind farm stood on the north side of Crotched Mountain in 1980, on land owned by the Rehabilitation Center, a 60-year-old hospital and school that serves individuals with disabilities and their families.
Its opening was a big deal; newspapers all over the region, including The Telegraph, covered it as a sign of the future.
Today, there is virtually nothing left of the wind farm aside from a few concrete slabs in the brush, which once supported a tower leg, but its setting remains unique.
It is surrounded by the Rehabilitation Center’s two hiking trails – the 1.6-mile Gregg Trail, named after the center’s founder, Harry Gregg, and the Dutton Brook Trail, which winds around a beaver-built wetland.
They are among the longest wheelchair-accessible trails anywhere, and may well be the world’s longest, and are open to the public for free.
(Incidentally, the center is separate from nearby Crotched Mountain Ski Area, which is on an entirely different ridge.)
The wind farm wasn’t much of a wind farm by modern standards, even though it had 20 turbines, because each tower produced only 30 kilowatts of electricity at full blast. The giant turbines on Lempster Mountain and other modern wind farms generate up to 100 times as much electricity.
From the point of view of power production, Crotched Mountain Wind Farm was a dud, partly because there wasn’t enough of a breeze and partly because wind turbine technology was so new.
“We still have the old wind data. You look at it, and what you can see is 13 mph is the most frequent entry, and very gusty,” Shumway said. “The towers were only 60 feet tall. The minimum functional wind speed they said it went down to was 10 (mph), but the staff said even at 13, you wouldn’t necessarily be seeing anything generated.”
Further, Shumway said, “Blades in a high wind would break off. On any given day, the majority would not be spinning – waiting for parts, waiting for people to come up and work on them.”
It only lasted a year or two before the turbines were taken apart – without fanfare.
From the point of view of history, however, the farm was anything but a dud, since it led indirectly to Altamont Pass Wind Farm in California, which launched the modern wind industry.
The wind farm was an outgrowth of the wind energy program at UMass-Amherst, which still is running today.
A number of early graduates founded the first modern wind turbine manufacturing firm in the United States, called U.S. Windpower. The program and its first turbine were so important, the Smithsonian Institution has one of their real wind turbines, the WF-1.
U.S. Windpower built the Crotched Mountain wind farm in late 1980, using “descendants” of WF-1, largely as a test bed, although the towers did feed power into the grid.
Later renamed Kenetech, the firm moved to California. Kenetech’s technology was eventually acquired by General Electric, this country’s largest wind-turbine manufacturer, so a bit of Crotched Mountain Wind Farm lives on.
As for the Rehabilitation Center, its worldwide reputation is still here. With a full-time workforce of around 800, it operates the Greenfield Special Education School with 95 students and the hospital with about 60 patients, as well as expertise in rehabilitation services. It even has a 25-yard indoor heated pool, which is open to the public at times.
No wind turbines, though. They’ve learned that lesson.