You will be forgiven if you are unaware of the significance of Cutty Hunk island to the wind industry. It’s a small dot of land at the end of a string of islands northwest of Martha’s Vineyard. In the late 1970s, about a dozen idealists with hands-on skills were seized by the idea of finding a better way than diesel generators to power the island. Their goal was to erect a wind turbine.
The world at the time was in the grip of the OPEC oil embargo at the time and prices for diesel fuel had already doubled. Like most islands, Cutty Hunk’s residents got their power from a station of four diesel generators, and the population of about 26 was paying about $15,000 annually for electricity.
The exploits of these wind pioneers were, thankfully, recorded by film-maker and documentarian David Vassar of BackCountry Productions. “The Cutty Hunk windmill was the largest wind turbine ever built for the generation of electricity. It wasn’t built by General Electric or funded by the Department of Energy. It was built by hand with private money from small investors.”
You can watch a 12-minute summary of Vassar’s film here: http://tinyurl.com/vimeo-wind. Password: dveff. From it, we can glean a few turbine details such as its 25-m tall lattice tower, about a 10m diameter rotor with stall flaps at the tips, and it was upwind facing. Another document tells that it was rated for 200 kW, but that sounds too high. Still, the turbine was fairly advanced for 1978. President of the group’s company WTG Energy Systems, Allan Wellikoff, said the turbine ran on an off for a couple years and other versions were built and flown in Scotland. When praised for the advanced design, he said, “While it is good to be first, the money comes from being second.”
Although the turbine did not operate very long, it pointed the way for future developers. Eventually, the island experimented with three wind turbines, 50, 100, and 250 kW. The larger one, from Nordex, was deemed the most useful.
What about the documentary? Vassar says the studio that now owns it is re-mastering it digitally and will eventually release it for a wider audience. One showing is scheduled for the Roxy Theater in San Francisco on April 23 and another for April 22, Earth Day in Texas. He hopes Netflix will acquire rights and show it to everyone.