While traveling recently we came across quite a wondrous sight, one that was just as intriguing as it was thought provoking. While driving along a stretch of highway in Indiana, the scenery suddenly changed from lush trees and other greenery, to wide open ranges with giant metal trees sprouting in rows, and stretching high into the sky. Having never seen them before, it was a rubbernecking experience for sure. Even though our first view was through rain soaked windows, it was still quite magnificent. Suddenly there were rows and rows of giant metal pin wheel appearing machines, stretching through the tree barren fields of the countryside. The arms appeared to be slowly turning in the inpercptable wind, which made for quite a sight, and truly piqued our curiosity.
In fact, they provided the basis for conversation for the next several hundred miles! Of course, on the return drive, even though we used a different route, we were hopeful and anxiously searched for more fields of steel. The sun shinning this time, we were not to be disappointed, as we entered a rest area, right in the middle of an open field of the metal windmills. Take a look at this video to see for yourself. Something, isn't it? Of course, the majority of the trip home was then dedicated to our speculations about these intriguing sky scrappers. Once home, a bit of research was soon on the agenda.
I found that Indiana is actually the home to four industrial wind farms. While some articles stated that they are all European owned, [even though there is one, Fowler Ridge, that is a joint venture between a West Virginia company and BP], others stated that the Benton County Wind Farm was developed by a Cincinnati, Ohio and an Oakland, California company. In fact, the Benton County Wind Farm was the state's first commercial wind farm, going on line in May of 2008. I am not sure why, but all of the wind farms are located in Indiana's Benton and White counties.
So what exactly are they and how do they work? Well, the turbines have three blades that are mounted on 265 foot tall pylons. Each blade is 132 feet long, so the full height of each turbine is 400 feet. When the wind blows against the blades, they turn like giant pinwheels. But, unlike their small paper counterparts, these pinwheels can generate up to 130 megawatts of power, which is their peak output. This peak output can be reached with a wind about 22 mph, but, oddly enough, higher wind speeds do not increase the output. In fact, when the wind reaches 55 mph, the blades rotate 90 degrees in their sockets so that their edges face inward and "dump" the wind. This is to prevent structural damage. Although not an American turbine, this video shows what can happen under severe circumstances. Thankfully, severe circumstances are a rarity, and in fact, the machine's problems can usually be corrected remotely, by workers that monitor them via computer from a control building. Still, there are some occasions when technicians must go out and physically scale the turbines. To do so, he must scale the three ladders that are inside the pylon before reaching the housing which encloses the turbine. As the wind rocks the housing which is well over 200 feet in the air, one is reminded that this job is not for the faint of heart, that's for sure!
Here are a few pictures, please take a look!