Paul Gipe Press Photos

Fayette began in Dubois, Pennsylvania in the late 1970s. I visited the small shop where they built the downwind, three-bladed turbines. At the time they had one turbine installed at a local rural coop in town. (There’s a photo of it in this collection.)

The company was in transition. They had just been bought by a former CIA operative, John Eckland. (At least that’s what he told everyone. I don’t remember now whether I confirmed it or not.) He was a committed believer that the world was headed for energy turmoil and the USA wouldn’t be immune. He was going to do his part by installing what he hoped would be thousands of wind turbines.

Fayette opened another shop in California’s Altamont Pass east of San Francisco where they began manufacturing their turbine. And they geared up quickly. By the mid 1980s they were building hundreds of turbines per year.

Like all US-built machines of the day, Fayette’s turbine used a rotor downwind of the tower and oriented by passive yaw. (Danish turbines, in contrast, used active yaw to orient their rotor upwind of the tower.)

Fayette used a simple drive train: mainshaft, gearbox, generator.

The 10-meter diameter rotor used three blades that were massive with a steel spar, I believe, and a pitchable blade tip. The blade tip, while similar to those on Danish turbines had a reputation as less reliable.

What distinguished the turbines were the use of a guyed-pole towers and a very high power rating of 100 kW. In comparison, the same size Carter turbines of the day were rated at 25 kW with a 10-meter rotor.

For three decades I’ve used the Fayette turbine as an example of how using the capacity of the generator to rate turbines can be manipulated by less-than-scrupulous manufacturers to sell their wares to unsuspecting and ignorant buyers. You can find the explanation in my books. To give a hint, the Carter turbine was overrated at 25 kW for a 10-meter rotor, and the Fayette was rated at four times more capacity than the Carter turbine.

The Fayette machines were notorious in the Altamont Pass, the only location in California where they were deployed, for their unreliability.

Fayette built some the earliest wind farms in California and the turbines were located alongside I-580 leading from the San Joaquin Valley over the Altamont Pass down into Livermore. The area quickly became a battlefield of operating, broken, and destroyed wind turbines.

At one time 1,400 Fayette machines spread on either side of the freeway—one of the most heavily traveled routes in the North America.

 Today, only one machine remains. Once painted red, white, and blue, the lonely derelict at the Jess Ranch on the south side of I-580 stands as mute testimony to the hype and arrogance surrounding the early days of the California wind industry.