Eighty years ago this month, modern renewable energy began. On a Vermont mountain called Grandpa’s Knob, the world’s first megawatt-scale wind turbine was connected to the electric grid, generating power for thousands in the Champlain Valley below. Time Magazine captured the historic moment (Oct. 19, 1941, at 6:56 p.m.):
“Slowly, like the movements of an awakening giant, two stainless-steel vanes — the size and shape of a bomber’s wings — began to rotate.”
And President Franklin Roosevelt’s science advisor, Vannevar Bush, wrote “the great wind-turbine on a Vermont mountain … proved that at some future time homes may be illuminated and factories may be powered by this new means.”
In the 1930s, Palmer Putnam, an MIT-trained engineer, president of G.P. Putnam’s Sons publishers, and top Cape Cod sailor, was impressed by the power of wind at sea and bothered by high electric prices at home.
He partnered with General Electric, the Central Vermont Public Service Corporation, and the S. Morgan Smith Company, to develop the breakthrough “Smith-Putnam” turbine. The turbine, with a ten-story tower and two gleaming 66-foot blades, operated for four years, facing winds up to 115 mph. But in 1945 one of its eight-ton blades snapped off and tumbled down Grandpa’s Knob.
With the project exceeding cost estimates, the Grandpa’s Knob team halted the effort. They had proven that utility-scale wind turbines worked technically, but without major funding for a multi-unit project they were stuck in what we now call the “Valley of Death” — where they could not establish that wind farms worked commercially.
Read more in The Hill.