Wind has been an important energy source for centuries. In the United States, mechanical windmills provided as much as 25% of all non-transportation energy by the end of the 1800s. New England has relied on the wind from its early days, from powering seafaring commerce to grinding grain in the windmills of Cape Cod, several of which still stand. Some 6 million windmills across the nation were used for small-scale generation of electricity from the 1920s until the 1950s, when the U.S. government's rural electrification programs successfully reached remote areas. By the early 1970s, the number of windmills operating in the U.S. had dwindled to 150,000 — used mostly for watering livestock in remote areas of the western United States — although their widespread use continued elsewhere in the world.
The New England region holds a special place as the birthplace of the modern U.S. wind-to-electricity industry, and sports a number of significant "firsts." These range from the first large-scale electricity-producing windmill (the biggest in the world by far at the time), and the world's first "wind farm." The region has seen a number of other attempts at modern commercial-scale wind development since then, some more successful than others. Today's flurry of wind development activity includes pioneering attempts to develop the country's first off-shore wind farm, which would also be the country's largest wind farm. In the historical pages on the left, we describe these firsts and the rest of the historical experience with wind power development in New England.