Kenetech Windpower (U.S. Windpower) citations in Wind Energy Comes of Age

By Paul Gipe

Kenetech Windpower (U.S. Windpower), one of the world’s largest wind companies, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 1996.

 Below is a list of references to U.S. Windpower (Kenetech Windpower) in the book Wind Energy Comes of Age (New York: John Wiley & Sons, May 1995, 535 pp).

 The 535-page book on wind energy is part of John Wiley & Sons’ prestigious series on sustainable design. The series includes the award winning Gray World Green Heart: Technology, Nature and the Sustainable Landscape by Robert Thayer and Design with Nature by renowned landscape architect Ian McHarg.

 Wind Energy Comes of Age was selected by the American Library Association’s magazine “Choice” for its Outstanding Academic Booklist in 1995. Wind Energy Comes of Age is now in its second printing.

Note: U.S. Windpower (USW) changed its name to KENETECH Windpower in 1993. Because more people recognized the firm under its original moniker than under its new identity, U.S. Windpower was used throughout Wind Energy Comes of Age.

 p3, reference to Dale Osborn’s oft-quoted statement that the wind business was “not a bunch of people with ponytails anymore.” It now appears that the people with the ponytails will have the last laugh.

 p34, places USW within the context of the California wind industry.

p56, describes USW’s Altamont Pass wind plant as an extension of their assembly plant in nearby Livermore. This enabled USW to more easily and quickly make repairs on its large fleet of model 56-100 turbines.

 p57, contrasts USW’s ability to raise large amounts of money to its undercapitalized competition in the United States.

 p70, notes that Woody Stoddard disagrees with NREL’s wind program manager Robert Thresher on the origin of USW’s 56-100 model. Thresher credits the DOE research program. Stoddard says the design originated from work by Canada’s Brace Research Institute.

 p71, quotes Stoddard as saying that “The most successful [American] company, U.S. Windpower, has succeeded not because of aerospace engineering expertise, but by the sheer volume of failure statistics on many hundreds of early machines.”

 p73, notes that by the mid-1990s U.S. Windpower was the only U.S. manufacturer of wind turbines to survive the 1980s.

 p85, discusses the difference in design philosophy between American manufacturers and their Danish competitors. “American designers constantly sought breakthroughs. They wanted to bypass the drudgery of incremental development and bat a home run. American’s leapt from one size to the next with little transition. The Carters jumped from 25 kW to 300 kW., U.S. Windpower from 50 kW to 100 kW, then 300 kW.”

 p88, describes the flow of information or lack thereof among wind turbine manufacturers, including a veiled reference to U.S. Windpower. “Secrecy among U.S. manufacturers also inhibits the transfer of hard-won experience, according to Karnoe. One U.S. company has elevated corporate secrecy to an art form, where technical questions that would elicit a prompt reply from Danish manufacturers are usually met with cold indifference. . . This U.S. manufacturer went so far as to withhold data on projected production from the CEC performance reports, even though required by law to do so.”

p160, cites Eric Miller’s discussion of wind turbine ratings and why, early in its marketing program, USW abandoned the 300 kW rating of the 33-300 or what eventually became the 33M-VS and subsequently the KVS 33.

p177, contrasts the specific tower head mass of USW’s 56-100 with that of a typical Danish wind turbine. At 10 kg/m2 USW’s 56-100 was about 1/3 the specific mass of the Vestas V27 at 27 kg/m2.

 p179, USW’s new turbine, then known as the 33M-VS, was beefier at 15 kg/m2, but still half the specific mass of its European competitors. The subsequent problems with the 33M-VS (KVS 33) could be attributable to its lightweight, that is, it may be shown that the turbine was under designed.

 p188, cut-a-way view of USW’s model 56-100.

 p215, cut-a-way view of USW’s 33M-VS

 p216-219, section examining the claims of variable speed wind turbines relative to the performance of existing dual speed wind turbines. Data in Table 6.18 suggests that there is no performance advantage between a variable speed wind turbine and dual-speed wind turbines for wind turbines 33 meters in diameter rated at 300 kW. USW’s product literature often compared the 33M-VS’s performance with that of constant speed wind turbines operating at only one speed, not the dual speeds often found in products competing with the 33M-VS.

 p226, refers to USW’s widely publicized marketing campaign touting the 5 cent per kilowatt-hour wind turbine. “It was as if former vice president Thomas Riley Marshall had been reborn as a wind energy promoter and proclaimed that what the country needed was no longer a good 5-cent cigar but a good 5-cent (per kilowatt-hour) windmill.” (This is a reference to a famous idom in American political history.) Nearly the entire chapter addresses the claims of USW and subsequent imitators about the low cost of wind energy and how, in just a few years, wind energy would become “too cheap to meter.”

 p233, cites USW testimony before the California Energy Commission on its cost of operation and maintenance.

 p302, notes that only USW and SeaWest had the foresight to remove inoperative wind turbines in California.

p330, again compliments USW and SeaWest for their responsiveness to community concerns.

 p348, describes how USW tried to address the concern of duck hunters by hiring a biologist to study birds at its proposed Solano County wind plant. The hunters were afraid that the wind turbines would kill the ducks before they did.

 p353, describes the genesis of the most extensive–and most expensive–study of bird-wind turbine interactions in the world. USW’s Avian Advisory Task Force became a model corporate response to an environmental concern about the number of birds killed by wind turbines in California’s Altamont Pass.

 p355-357, further discussion of USW’s attempt to meet environmental concerns about birds in the Altamont Pass.

 p382, lists the noise from USW’s model 56-100.

p416, shows a pleasing ridge top array of USW’s model 56-100.

p447, contrasts USW’s sensitive approach to community relations to that of Zond Systems.

 p479, sustained orderly development enabled USW to stamp out thousands of its model 56-100, gradually reducing per unit costs with increasing experience.

 Wind Energy Comes of Age is available from John Wiley & Sons by calling +1 800 225 5945 in the United States, +1 800 263 1590 in Canada, +44 02 43 77 97 77 in Europe, +61 7 369 9755 in Australia, and +65 258 11 47 in Asia.