The sustained high cost of conventional fuels together with heightened environmental concerns about air pollution led in 1978 to federal legislation — known as PURPA, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act — that encouraged private, non-utility investment in generating power from renewable energy sources. At that time, the first small-scale wind turbines were being sold by domestic manufacturers.
Wind Farm at Crotched Mountain, NH, 1978. Photo courtesy of the University of Massachusetts.
In December 1980, U.S. Windpower installed the world's first wind farm, consisting of 20 wind turbines rated at 30 kilowatts each, on the shoulder of Crotched Mountain in southern New Hampshire. Like many firsts, it was a failure: The developer overestimated the wind resource, and the turbines frequently broke. U.S. Windpower, which later changed its name to Kenetech, subsequently developed wind farms in California, and after experiencing machine failure there too, improved its designs and became the world's largest turbine manufacturer and wind farm developer before succumbing to the weight of aggressive development efforts, serious technical problems with its newest turbines, and a weak U.S. market, ultimately filing for bankruptcy in 1996.
History content contributors include Harley Lee of Endless Energy, James Manwell of the University of Massachusetts Renewable Energy Resource Laboratory, and Tom Gray of American Wind Energy Association. Edited by Bob Grace, Sustainable Energy Advantage, LLC.