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Publication Title | A Primer on Wind Generators

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A Primer on Wind Generators Mike Bergey

©1991 Michael Bergey

The wind has been an important source of energy in the U.S. for a long time. The mechanical windmill was one of the two "high-technology" inventions (the other was barbed wire) of the late 1800's that allowed us to develop much of our western frontier. Over 8 million mechanical windmills have been installed in the U.S. since the 1860's and some of these units have been in operation for more than a hundred years. Back in the 1920's and 1930's, before the REA began subsidizing rural electric coops and electric lines, farm families throughout the Midwest used 200-3,000 watt wind generators to power lights, radios, and kitchen appliances. The modest wind industry that had built up by the 1930's was literally driven out of business by government policies favoring the construction of utility lines and fossil fuel power plants.

A Little History

In the late 1970's and early 1980's intense interest was once again focused on wind energy as a possible solution to the energy crisis. As homeowners and farmers looked to various electricity producing renewable energy alternatives, small wind turbines emerged as the most cost effective technology capable of reducing their utility bills. Tax credits and favorable federal regulations (PURPA) made it possible for over 4,500 small, 1-25 kW, utility-intertied wind systems to be installed at individual homes between 1976-1985. Another 1,000 systems were installed in various remote applications during the same period. Small wind turbines were installed in all fifty States. None of the small wind turbine companies, however, were owned by oil companies, so when the federal tax credits expired in late 1985, and oil prices dropped to $10 a barrel two months later, most of the small wind turbine industry once again disappeared. The companies that survived this "market adjustment" and are producing small wind turbines today are those whose machines were the most reliable and whose reputations were the best.

The Cost Factor

Photovoltaics is an attractive technology in many ways, but cost is not one of them. Small wind turbines can be an attractive alternative to those people needing more than 100-200 watts of power for their home, business, or remote facility. Unlike

Wind Power

Home Power #22 • April / May 1991

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