Thursday, July 14, 2011

Erecting a Wind Turbine Tower, Ecovillage Style*

Yesterday was an inspiring day 'on the farm' at Dancing Rabbit. I was fortunate to participate in the erection of a 100 foot, 3,000 watt wind turbine tower (actually a former communication tower capped with a giant steel tube and a wind generator): the culmination of a year-and-a-half of site analysis, land clearing and base preparation. The electricity generated by the turbine will supplement the existing PV solar array at the Milkweed Mercantile, my place of summer employment. I joined community members Tom and Kurt around 10AM by helping to bolt the top-most segment of the tower to the bottom three segments. It was at this point that the process grew increasingly crazy and improvised. The length of the lowered tower blocked the entrance road to the community, and we were forced to re-route the UPS truck to the 'visitors' entrance.

(The turbine tower on its side. The vertical post sticking out of the base and into the air is called the 'gin pole' which acts like a giant lever. We used a cable crank (forgot the technical name of the tool, but it's not terribly technical) to raise the tower inch-by-inch.)

Throughout the process, we were followed by a two-man documentary crew that is traveling the country and visiting different intentional communities. It was nice talking to others that had visited Earthaven Ecovillage. Nice gentlemen, for sure. I hope their video succeeds! Before we raised the tower, we had to bolt the turbine and generator to the top, and bolt the blades to the generator. The blades are quite light (less than ten pounds each), but the generator is HEAVY: we guessed about two hundred pounds. It took three of us to connect it.

(Above: Tom and I tighten the wind turbine blades as the camera crew looks on. In the background a car jack and some stacked two-by-fours are holding the entire turbine tower off the ground.)

(Above: The community enjoyed the view of a turbine tower at funny angles throughout the day).

Once the head was fastened, we began to raise the tower inch by inch. Our first obstacle - of which there is no picture- was that the gin pole began to bend to the east. As we began to raise the tower, it looked as if the lever hoisting the tower upward was going to snap on its side, which would have been disasterous. So we had to tighten some cables and mess with some bolts to straighten it up. Even with the gin pole straightened, I was honestly afraid that a relatively thin piece of steel could not support the entire weight of the tower PLUS the turbine head (the later for which the gin pole was not designed).

(Above: Look at me mom! I'm single-handedly raising a wind tower. Each crank of this shaft brought the tower a few more inches closer to ninety degrees.)

The real problems began as we ran out of cable toward the end. This is tough for me to explain without more detailed pictures or technical jargon, but simply stated, the system we were using did not allow for sufficient cable to raise the tower all the way. So we had to improvise and create multiple new connections along the existing cable. You can see from the picture below that the process was anything but scientific. It involved raising Tom and Thomas in a tractor bucket, extra cable, some chains, a come-along, some webbing, and whole lot of hope and trust. As the evening endured, members of community came out to watch, help, and cheer us on. At a certain point, the gin pole was close enough to the ground that we could manually push it down into its final position (even this was not without its hiccups as the bolts on the ground did not perfectly align with the holes at the base of the tower. Fixing this involved whacking the bolts with a mallet to move them a half-inch.)

This entire process was, to me, very symbolic of ecovillage life and the strength of living in community. No one amongst us (certainly not I) was an 'expert' at turbine tower installation. None of us were being paid much at all. At multiple points in the day, I was sure that we would have to lower the tower, start over, or just plain give up. We made plenty of mistakes, and had to make up for the mistakes of other before us. We had to improvise, think on our feet, and take advantage of the limited resources we had (e.g. a tractor and a rusty chain). When we needed extra help from others in the community, it was easy to find.

By the end of the day, I realized I was foolish for ever doubting that the community members with whom I was working couldn't get it done. These individuals are amongst of the most resourceful, skilled, and intelligent I have encountered. As we move forward into an increasingly uncertain future in which the very climate we take for granted undergoes violent and unpredictable changes, it is from places like this and people like these that new and optimistic ways of living will emerge.

*Thanks to Alline Anderson, Milkweed Mercantile owner, who took pictures, cooked dinner, and cheered us on.


  1. nice job Robby, so proud of you!

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