Wind Power Generation Comes to Our Spread

Restoring a Jacobs windplant finally gave MOTHER EARTH NEWS the capacity for wind power generation.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
May/June 1981
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The wind power generation system MOTHER EARTH NEWS installed on its property relied on an old reliable Jacobs windplant.

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Among folks who fancy the idea of putting old pre-Rural Electrification Administration windplants back to work, one brand is admired above all others: Jacobs. Marcellus Jacobs, who founded the firm that bears his name, has often been called the father of wind-generated electricity in the United States. And the machines built by Jacobs Wind Electric during its quarter-century of existence have developed a well-deserved reputation for exceptional durability. [EDITOR'S NOTE:Mr. Jacobs and his son Paul have recently begun to market a new line of wind generators, which promise to be of a quality to rival that of their predecessors.]  

In fact, the legendary machines seem to be capable of engendering fanatical loyalty among wind power advocates, and this past autumn one such zealot persuaded MOTHER EARTH NEWS to join the Jacobs clan. Michael Hackleman—last summer's Windpower Seminar instructor and a noted author on the subjects of wind power generation and electric vehicles—picked out a site, at the Eco-Village property, for an old 1,800-watt unit that John Shuttleworth's father had stored in his barn for years. With the assistance of Mike and his technical cohort, Windy (who is involved in the restoration of vintage wind machines in Santa Fe, New Mexico), we set about readying the machine for a new life.

Generator Restoration

A glance at the inner workings of our Jacobs helped us to understand the reasons behind the company's fine reputation. Even though the "bird" had been out of action for some time, the only significant repairs required were to mend the brush holder—it was cracked and needed to be arc-welded—and to replace the stub shaft, which the unit spins on. Meanwhile, ace carpenter Jay Herndon set to work refinishing and rebalancing the spruce blades. Once all the pieces were cleaned, scrupulously inspected, and repainted (we spread the Eco-Village emblem across the tail), the components were carefully assembled.

The Tower

North Carolina winds are known for being pretty fickle, and the valley where much of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' property is located disrupts the area's wind patterns even further. Consequently, even though we found a convenient knoll just 450 feet from the yurt (one of our experimental dwellings) that was to receive the electricity, site analyst Hackleman felt that a substantial tower was in order as well. So our research team fabricators pieced together a 60-foot-tall structure made from EMT (electrical metallic tubing) and 1/4" steel reinforcing rod. Wires cross each section diagonally, to triangulate the assembly and keep it in tension.

The Raising

Lifting the tower for a windplant is in many respects similar to launching a ship. Although there were no bottles broken over the "prow," dozens of observers traipsed up the steep road to encourage the tower-raising crew. Job foreman Leroy Richter chained his Jeep to a tree, and the cable from the vehicle's winch was stretched over a gin pole and attached to the tower's peak. With two of its three feet hinged to the concrete pad—and three men on a rope counterbalancing the cable from the opposite side—we were able to lift the 60-foot-tall "jungle gym" by simply pushing the winch's control button.

What had taken months of preparation—and three hours of cable rigging that morning—was over in five minutes. The remaining foot was bolted down, and Mike scaled the structure to bestow his "seal of approval". Once they were satisfied with the assembly's soundness, Mike and Windy readied the short, tower-top gin pole that was needed to help lift the machine's components. By the time the sun was dipping behind the mountains to the west, the generator, blades, and tail had been winched to the top and bolted into position. The reborn Jacobs was ready to run.

The Hookup

Two 450-foot lengths of No. 2 aluminum wire—strung on poles—deliver the wind generator's output to a bank of 18 batteries, wired in series, beneath the yurt. Thus the 32+ volts of direct current can be "stowed away" until there's a 32-volt demand, for lighting, in the dwelling above.

To accommodate the low-voltage direct current, No. 12 wire was used inside the house to distribute the "juice" to a 15-watt, a 100-watt, and three 30-watt fixtures. Between 650 and 1,000 watts are being consumed on a daily basis, and—through the relatively dependable winter and spring months—the Jacobs has easily kept up with the demand.

Whether or not the wind machine will prove to be capable of providing all the electricity required by the yurt's residents throughout the year remains to be seen. But whatever the results may be, the power that is produced by the wind on the hill above will spin no meters, and will be accompanied by no bills.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For information about Jacobs windplants, contact Jacobs Wind Electric. 

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