Photos of StormMaster Wind Turbines

Alas, if there ever was a name created by imagination and unconnected with reality it was StormMaster. The name begged comparisons of its actual performance to what occurred in the field.

Developed by Ed Salter, one of America’s early wind pioneers, the turbine followed several iterations in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

StormMaster employed off-the-shelf components in a conventional drive train. The rotor, like nearly all of those developed in the US at the time, was oriented downwind of the tower.

What set StormMaster apart was the slender pultruded fiberglass blades. The blades incorporated heavy weights at the end of each blade to “stiffen” the blade during operation to avoid flutter. The rotor also incorporated pitch weights in the hub to regulate overspeed.

In 1985 there were 310 StormMaster turbines installed in California—not necessarily operating. Many were in various stages of repair even then.

The turbines were notorious on the Zond site in 1984 when I arrived. (Zond was a major California wind farm developer of the period.) We spent hours in meetings with consulting engineers trying to figure out what to do with the turbines. The anecdote at the time was that during the inauguration of Zond’s first wind farm of 16 turbines they ceremoniously turned the turbines on and some of them immediately went into overspeed. Everybody then ran for cover.

I was partial to one solution proposed: cutting the 12-meter diameter rotor down to 10-meters. Yes, that would have reduced the power output of the 40 kW turbine, but it was more likely to survive long enough to generate usable electricity. This simple approach was never implemented on the Zond site.

Nevertheless, in the late 1980s the British company Composite Engineering designed a wood-composite, fixed-pitch rotor 10 meters in diameter as a replacement for the pultruded blades. This fix was used on a wind farm near Oak Creek Energy’s site in the Tehachapi Pass and the turbines with this fix ran for years afterwards.

In the spring of 2008, I was surprised to see a cluster of StormMaster turbines operating in the San Gorgonio Pass near Palm Springs, California.