660 kW wind turbine

Gwen and I visited her folks in Lubbock over the 4th of July weekend. I make no excuses for Lubbock: I don’t think it has much going for it. One thing it does have going for it is flat, open space and wind. Lots of wind. As it happens, it’s in a wind-farm region that’s growing from Abilene to Amarillo. It’s also home to the Windmill Museum, a fitting institution for that town, and our visit to that museum was probably the most interesting part of the trip. If you find yourself in Lubbock, you should go.

They’ve got a lot of old-fashioned pumping windmills of the sort that sprout over farms all over the country—showing considerable ingenuity, variation, and beauty in their design—but they’ve also got a working 660 kW wind turbine generator (see above, see also my flickr set) and a disassembled 1.5 MW wind turbine. We actually had a chance to step inside the tower of the 660 kW turbine.

We learned a lot, including all the basic facts and figures for the generating turbines. The guy running the place once worked in the wind farms of southern California, where the turbines only generate about 200 kW each. Most of the turbines being installed today generate 1.5 MW, enough to power 500+ homes. Apparently electricity-generating windmills have been around since the 1880s, but it was only in the 1970s that they became economically viable—I asked what happened then and (as I suspected) it was a breakthrough in fiberglass fabrication that made much larger windmills possible. Each blade on the 1.5 MW turbine is 112 feet long and weighs 12,000 lb; the actual generator is of a size that would probably fit in the bed of a pickup, but at 14,000 lb or so, would overwhelm it. The farmers in the area renting land to the wind-turbine operators get $10,000/yr in rent plus a 2% royalty on each unit, so they should be making out pretty well even in a year with a bad harvest.