“Windmill City”

“Today’s quiz: what had 2000 kilowatts, created devotees called ‘wooshies’, was the largest of its kind in the world, and didn’t work?

Answer: the U.S. Department of Energy wind-powered electric generator constructed on Howard’s Knob in October, 1978.”

–from the Mountain Times

Add this to the canon of “World’s Largest” in North Carolina (at least for a time): Boone’s famous experiment in wind power, dedicated thirty years ago this week (on July 12, 1979). As a Boone native (albeit a young one at that point), I certainly remember the windmill, but wasn’t aware of the full background of the project, or of the “cult” that formed around it — a Mountain Times feature, “The 20th Century: High Country History,” provides the relevant details, and Blue Ridge blog presents additional photos and remembrances.

The windmill surely created a buzz in Boone for a brief time — perhaps a bit too much buzz, as reported by Time magazine. Concerns over the windmill’s noise and ineffectiveness (plus the Reagan administration’s eventual pulling of funding for alternative energy research) ultimately doomed the project, and the windmill was taken down in 1983. I’m a little unclear on what, if any, role the Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 (aka the “Ridge Law,” an effort in which Hugh Morton was heavily involved) played in all of this, other than that it exempted windmills from its ban on tall structures along the ridgeline. Can anyone fill in some of those details?

Meanwhile, NC windmills are back in the news today, as the General Assembly debates a possible windmill ban in the mountains — a ban it appears the majority of the public opposes. The NC Wind Energy website provides a wealth of information on the issue. I wonder what Morton’s position would have been?

7 thoughts on ““Windmill City”

  1. Elizabeth, there is an interesting article in the current issue of “Our State” magazine about North Carolina windmills. It’s in the August ’09 issue on pages 32-36.

  2. The Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 was a direct result of what has been termed by Senator Joe Sam Queen as “The Monstrosity”. It is a 10 story concrete glob that is situated on top of Sugar Mountain in Avery County. “Sugartop” was built by a group of developers from Florida, and caused an outrage because of it’s unappealing ruination of the view for miles around. Any structure over 100 feet tall above 3000 feet elevation, are now prohibited by the Act of 1983. Windmills are exempt for now, but legislation is being pushed to also include banning them, unless for single home use.

  3. Hugh always credited Al Traver, of Sugar Mountain at that time, for the magic words, “What you people need is a ridge law.” which headed those folks who wanted to prevent other “Monstrosities” in our North Carolina mountains in the right direction. After that he credited Speaker of the N.C. House, Liston Ramsey, for the crafty crafting of the successful bill which passed with a huge majority because it allowed any county which was included to “Opt out” through a public referendum in that county. (It’s not good to try to tell a mountain man what to do with land his family has owned for two hundred years.) Here my memory fails me, but I think a very sharp legislator from Buncome Co. also had a great deal of imput. However, the real point is that there is no end to what you can get done if you don’t care who gets the ctedit.

  4. I had the honor of meeting Hugh Morton when my father became involved in the “Ridge Law.” I was very young, but I remember his passion. If he was presented the choice between utility sized wind farms and keeping the ridges protected, he would choose for the ridges to be protected. He would not want uility scale turbines. Hugh was an environmentalist, but he would say we have to do more and work more to figure this out, and he would say that the ridges are not negotiable in this quest. My Dad felt the same way. I just wish Hugh and my Dad were here to keep the ridges safe.

  5. I will do what I can to honor the passion of Hugh Morton and my Dad. The mountain ridges should remain protected. They are non-negotiable in the quest by ASU and others to take control of the ridges.

  6. I remembered reading where Dennis Scanlin, ASU Energy Professor, Avram Friedman with the Canary Coalition, and Stephen Smith with another group interviewed Hugh regarding the issue of the ridge law and wind turbines on the ridge tops. This interview would later be presented to the NC State Energy Office. Here are the notes from that meeting.

    On February 5, 2003, Dennis Scanlin, Avram Friedman and Steve Smith met with Hugh Morton at Grandfather Mountain to discuss wind energy possibilities. Since Hugh Morton was one of the major drivers of the original ridge law and because he is the owner of Grandfather Mountain, one of the major tourist attractions in Western North Carolina, it was considered prudent to get his input on the possibility of modifying the ridge law. During the course of the meeting, Morton stated that he was concerned about modifying the ridge law because of the potential that development of ridge tops could not be limited if the ridge law was modified.

    HUGH CLEARLY STATES THAT HE WOULD BE CONCERNED IF THE RIDGE LAW WAS CHANGED. Please know that I am fighting to protect the ridges from the very people who interviewed this wonderful man.

    Hugh would want us to keep the ridge law strong.

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