Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Five College Calendar
Smith eDigest
Submit an Idea
News Archive
News Publications
Planning an Event
Contact Us
News & Events

Smith Team Eyes the Future of Energy Production

As Smith College and the rest of the country search for alternative energy sources, a team of students, faculty and staff members traveled to Vermont recently to tour a wind farm. Power generated by wind is becoming an increasingly viable option and, as a clean, renewable source of energy, is of particular interest to Smith students.

On a beautiful autumn Saturday, Sept. 20, Smith students, accompanied by Denise McKay, assistant professor of engineering, and the college’s Green Team, toured Green Mountain Power’s wind farm in Searsburg, Vt. When it came online, the Searsburg facility was the largest in New England.

Smith Students pose near a power-generating windmill at Green Mountain Power wind farm.

On the ride to Searsburg, Professor McKay, whose interests center on the production of renewable energies, provided context for power generation; and on the return trip, she spoke with students about what’s entailed in graduate studies and various types of engineering related to environmental issues.

The array of wind turbines at Green Mountain Power sits atop a 2,500-foot ridgeline on 35 acres of privately owned land abutting national forest property. Tour guides explained the lengthy collaborative processes required to develop the facility, as well as the engineering involved in construction and computer monitoring of the huge turbines and steel towers that support them.
The facility’s six-megawatt output produces emission-free renewable energy for about 1,600 Vermont households. Equally important are the data on differences in siting and maintaining wind turbines in the unforgiving New England climate. Although Green Mountain Power began looking for wind power sites in the 1970s, New England has fewer suitable locations than some other parts of the country. Siting requires good wind speeds, access to nearby roads for materials transport, nearby high-voltage access, and the absence of rare plants, archeological sites, wetlands, and significant mammal and bird breeding areas.  
The Searsburg site finally went online in 1997, but not before some parts had to be replaced because of weather-related corrosion that is seldom a problem in California, for example, or open plains areas. Unlike the blades in those sunnier areas, Vermont’s turbine blades are black to absorb heat and help remove rime ice that is common in winter.   

Giant windmills jut into the sky near Searsburg, Vt.

Each of the 11 Zond Z-40FS turbines, and its supporting structure, sits on three feet of concrete below ground and two feet of rock covering the foundation. The hub that holds the turbine’s blades sits 132 feet above ground, connected to a “nacelle” that is larger than a school bus and holds the control machinery.
The day was bright and sunny, but not very windy. The blades made a low chuffing sound as they turned in a 132-foot-diameter circle. These turbines begin to generate power at winds of 10 mph. As the motors repositioned the blades to catch the light wind, visitors could see the adjustments register on one tower’s computer monitor, which had been opened for the group.
Walt, a retired physics teacher, engaged visitors in a clear explanation of the turbines’ operation and invited Smith student Marice Uy ’09 to share her experience as an intern at General Electric’s wind turbine division. 

Newer technologies and taller towers (256 feet high) now enable turbines to generate more power per tower than those at Green Mountain Power, at wind speeds as low as 6-8 mph. A future trip to a new utility-scale wind power project in New Hampshire is in the planning stages.


9/29/08   Carole Fuller
DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z