Gone with the wind: When Crotched Mountain had a wind farm

  • Wind turbines spin on the ridgeline of Crotched Mountain after 20 turbines were constructed along the mountain’s shoulder in 1980. The three-year-pilot project is referred to as the world’s first wind farm.  Photo courtesy of Crotched Mountain

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/9/2017 6:38:18 AM

Twelve wind turbines have been producing energy in Lempster since 2008 and a nine-turbine project is gearing up to break ground in Antrim, and although these are both relatively recent developments, the Monadnock region is no stranger to harnessing wind power.

In fact the so-called world’s first wind farm, but what may be more accurately referred to as the state’s first wind farm, was located along the shoulder of Crotched Mountain. The 20-turbine project was constructed in 1980 on land owned by the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.

According to old newspaper articles that are filed and held in Greenfield’s historical society, developer U.S. Windpower — a company that was founded by University of Massachusetts graduates and was based in Burlington, Mass. — financed the project entirely through private money. It was built as a pilot project, at which point it hoped an investor would throw funds behind to back.

The electricity generated from the 60-foot towers, which each produced 30 kilowatts of energy, was sold to the Public Service Company of New Hampshire and distributed throughout the state.

“I definitely think this is the wave of the future,” Regina Wdowiak, site manager for U.S. Windpower, was quoted as saying in an old article published in The Union Leader. “We are really caught in the infancy of this industry. No more is wind the funky energy that hippies are putting up.”

Dale Russell, a longtime Greenfield resident, said he worked at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center before the turbines were erected. He had taken a different position by the time the turbines were constructed, but said he still remembers them.

He said when they went in, no one in town raised much of a fuss over the construction.

“Not a word,” Russell said about the approval process. “I think everybody thought it was a unique idea.”

Newspaper articles from the time seem to back up those claims.

“The 20 wind generators … certainly changed the appearance of the southwest slopes of Crotched Mountain. Nevertheless, the voters of Greenfield gave the project a large boost by a large margin … illustrating the fact that sound reasoning generally surmounts stubbornness based on tradition,” a statement from the select board at the time said.

Judd Gregg, then a state representative, lauded Greenfield’s ability to grasp and approve new approaches to generating energy electricity.

Once the turbines went up, Lenny Cornwell, president of the Greenfield Historical society and longtime resident, said he only vaguely remembers them dotting the ridgeline.

“I couldn’t remember (how many turbines there were),” he said while leafing through old newspaper articles about the wind turbines on Friday afternoon. “You kind of got used to them, some of them you couldn’t really see so good. At first it was novelty and then it was like, you know, who cares? It’s a windmill, ho hum.”

Despite the project’s seemingly energetic beginning, belief in it eventually sputtered out.

The wind farm was built as a pilot project, at which point the company hoped an investor would back it, but that never happened, and only two years after the turbines went up, they came down.

“I thought it was a stupid place to build them,” Russell said. “I worked up there for many years and there just wasn’t consistent wind.”

He said inconsistent wind was probably the reason the turbines didn’t last beyond the trial period.

But David Johnson, director of marketing and communications for the rehabilitation center, said the turbines came down because the winds were so gusty on the mountain that the first-generation blades couldn’t deal with the amount of wind.

He said the farm was disassembled and the parts were shipped to the West Coast. 

U.S. Windpower, whose name was changed to Kenetech, developed projects in California after its venture in the Granite State. Kenetech worked to improve its designs and became the world’s largest turbine manufacturer and wind-farm developer until aggressive development efforts, technical issues with its newest turbines and a weak market eventually led the company to file for bankruptcy in 1996.

Today, there’s not much evidence that remains of the pilot-wind project on Crotched Mountain. Johnson said when the company disassembled the turbines, the company dug out the windmill bases and planted a grove of trees over the spot, which are still there today.

reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.

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