WTG Energy Systems’ MP-200 (1975-1982)

By Paul Gipe

Who remembers WTG Energy Systems and its developer Alan Spaulding? I’d certainly forgotten about him and his wind turbine until digging into the history of Howden Wind Farms. It was one of those, “Oh, yeah, I remember them now” moments. So this will serve as a place holder and repository for what I could find on this long forgotten part of wind history.

For those who don’t remember—or who weren’t born yet—Alan Spaulding was an heir to an old New England fortune. He incorporated WTG Energy Systems in Buffalo, New York in 1975 to build what was then a large wind turbine—in fact very large for the day.[1] The only wind turbines bigger were those under development by the aerospace industry or national research institutions, such as NASA.

The company wasn’t mentioned in Volta Torrey’s Wind-Catchers, a very early American book on the budding wind industry published in 1976.[2] However, in 1983 the company and its design were mentioned several times in Paul Vosburgh’s Commercial Applications of Wind Power.[3]

WTG’s MP3-200 at Pacific Power & Light’s Whiskey Run site on the coast of Oregon in 1985. The turbine was out of service when this photo was taken.

Vosburgh writes that WTG had installed four of its turbines in North America and a fifth in Wales. Here’s what I’ve found.

  • Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts
  • Wreck Cove, Nova Scotia
  • Whiskey Run, Oregon
  • Little Equinox Mountain, Vermont
  • Carmarthen Bay, Wales
  • In addition, WTG added three more turbines to the one on Little Equinox Mountain in 1982. That’s a total of eight turbines for a small start-up at the dawn of the modern wind industry.

Below is a timeline as best as I can reconstruct.

  • 1975; incorporated, Buffalo, New York.
  • 1976; installed MP1-200 on Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts.
  • 1977 July; MP1-200 began operation for the Town of Gosnold’s utility district on Cuttyhunk Island, MA in a test mode.
  • 1980, summer; MP1-200 operating stably with penetration of over 100%.
  • 1980; Rose reports three units installed with one scheduled for January 1982.
  • 1980 November; first turbine installed commercially for Nova Scotia Power at their Wreck Cove site for pumping at a pumped storage plant. MP2-200.
  • 1981; January; MP3-200 connected to the grid at Whiskey Run, Oregon.
  • 1981; February; MP2-200 connected to the grid at Wreck Cove.
  • 1981; spring; Pacific Power & Light’s Whiskey Run site began operating.
  • 1981; August; Wreck Cove turbine expected to be in regular service.
  • 1981; fall; expects to begin production of the MP-600
  • 1981; September; hope to enter revenue service on Cuttyhunk Island.
  • 1981; December; Installed MP4-200 on Little Mount Equinox, Vermont.
  • 1982; November; MP5-200 installed at Carmarthen Bay, Wales by James Howden Group
  • 1982; Three more were installed on Little Mount Equinox, Vermont

Spaulding descended from a family that once owned 60 woolen mills in eight states. His family also owned one-half of Cuttyhunk Island and was seen as responsible stewards of the land. Tragically, Spaulding was killed in a light plane crash on Cuttyhunk Island in 2013.[4]

WTG Energy Systems MP 200

In a 1979 paper, Spaulding noted that Denmark’s Gedser turbine was the “most fatigue resistant large wind turbine” built up to 1974 and its cost was “within the guidelines we had set.” (The Gedser turbine operated in commercial service from 1957 to 1967.) For these reasons, WTG based the MP-200 design on that from Johannes Juul’s design for Gedser.[5]

Similar to that at Gedser, the MP-200 rotor was 80-feet (24.4 m) in diameter and employed pitchable blade tips for regulation and overspeed control. Because of its use on Cuttyhunk Island’s small diesel network, the rotor drove a synchronous rather than an induction or asynchronous generator as used at Gedser. The turbine was rated to generate 200 kW at 28 mph (12.5 m/s). To shut down the turbine, the blade tips could pitch to 60 degrees.[6]

Pitchable blade tip on WTG’s MP3-200 at Pacific Power’s Whiskey Run site on the coast of Oregion in 1985.

Unlike Gedser, however, the rotor did not use struts and stays to brace the rotor. Instead, the WTG rotor relied on the strength of a steel spar cantilevered from the hub. Barrows reported that the Cuttyhunk turbine, MP1-200, endured wind speeds greater than 100 mph (44.6 m/s) without damage. According to Spaulding, the turbine endured wind speeds of 100 mph on four occasions and ran for extended periods 70% above its rated power.[7]

Power curve for WTG’s MP1-200 on Cuttyhunk Island dated 1979. Note that WTG produced a power curve showing data points from actual measurements when 40 years later most “inventors” producing a new wind turbine product seldom go through the trouble of doing so. From Barrows, 1979.

Despite these optimistic performance reports, all was not well with the design. Howden had installed one, MP5-200 at British wind turbine test center at Carmarthen Bay, Wales in 1982. Peter Jamieson, now a noted authority on wind turbine aerodynamics, reports that load testing of WTG’s blade spars in Howden’s shop determined that the rotor wouldn’t last a year under gravity loads alone.[8] (Howden itself was eventually plagued by unanticipated loads.)

With the prototype turbine operating stably on Cuttyhunk’s diesel network by 1980, the company began an ambitious expansion plan. The first commercial turbine, MP2-200, went up in Nova Scotia. The third followed shortly after at Whiskey Run on the coast of Oregon. The latter was converted from the asynchronous generator used previously to a more easily integrated induction generator.

Meanwhile, WTG was planning to scale up the design to the MP-600 using a rotor 125-feet (38.1 m) in diameter.[9] This didn’t come to pass.

Like other companies of the period, WTG was installing wind turbines a continent away from their base of operations. In retrospect, this was unwise.

Two of WTG’s MP-200 wind turbines on Little Equinox Mountain in 1985. Photo by Newnd, Wikimedia Commons.

One of the lessons the wind industry painfully learned in California was that it’s best to sort out problems in your own back yard before deploying a product halfway around the world. It’s much easier—and cheaper—to troubleshoot problems and replace components a short drive from the plant. This facilitates learning from the “ground up,” providing immediate feedback to not only engineers in the design studios but also to those on the shop floor. This was an advantage the Danes had over everyone else. They were deploying hundreds of turbines in a vibrant home market. Often they could see their own wind turbines from their office windows and where they couldn’t; the turbines were only a few kilometers drive away.

At some point the company faded away. I don’t remember its demise. I couldn’t find any mention of the company after 1982. The Wikipedia entry for Little Equinox Mountain specifically mentions that the four turbines there were plagued with operational problems and stood idle from 1985 to 1989 before they were removed.

Paul Gipe on the tower of WTG’s MP3-200 at Whiskey Run, Oregon in 1985. Don’t try this at home. Photo by Nancy Nies.

I remember climbing the WTG tower at the Whiskey Run site in 1985. The turbine wasn’t operational then. There was a wind farm of early ESI-54 turbines nearby that was spinning noisily away while the WTG turbine stood idle.[10] The tower was made from Cor-Ten steel and chunks of it would flake off my hands as I climbed the tower. I thought better of hanging on to a severely corroded ladder dozens of feet off the ground and quickly climbed down.

To modern eyes, the Gedser turbine with its struts and stays looks ungainly. But WTG’s design was even more so. To me, it always looked clunky. And at 200 kW it was a giant for its day when everything else being installed was 50 kW at best.

The saga of WTG Energy Systems is another of the little-known efforts to make wind work.

[1] Rose, M.B. “Operational Experience on the MP-200 Series Commercial Wind Turbine Generators.” WTG Energy Systems, 251 Elm St., Buffalo, NY 14203, 1980. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19830010988.

[2] Torrey, Volta. Wind-Catchers: American Windmills of Yesterday and Tomorrow. Brattleboro, VT: Stephen Greene Press, 1976.

[3] Vosburgh, Paul N. Commercial Applications of Wind Power. New York : Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1983. http://archive.org/details/commercialapplic0000vosb. Pages 59, 63-67, 91, 93, 124, 157.

[4] The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News. “Pilot Killed In Plane Crash Was Prominent Cuttyhunk Resident.” Accessed October 12, 2023. https://vineyardgazette.com/news/2013/06/06/pilot-killed-plane-crash-was-prominent-cuttyhunk-resident.

[5] Spaulding, A. P. “WTG Energy Systems’ MP1-200 200 Kilowatt Wind Turbine Generator,” 10, 1979. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19800008198.

[6] Barrows, R. E. “WTG Energy Systems’ Rotor: Steel at 80 Feet,” 1979. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19800008213.

[7] Barrows, Spaulding.

[8] Jamieson, Peter. “E-Mail Correspondence on the Subject of Howden’s Wind Venture.,” October 4, 2023.

[9] Rose.

[10] In 1994 Don Bain reported that the nearly two dozen ESI 54 turbines at the site were removed. They had been installed in 1983 and taken down by December 1993. Wind speeds the site had been overestimated, he said, and were turbulent. The utility had paid $0.12-$0.16/kWh for the first ten years and then dropped dramatically, making the project unprofitable. The utility opted not to buy the project and so it was scrapped. Years later the site was converted to a . . . golf course.