Megawatt wind turbines are windmills capable of generating a megawatt or more of electricity and feeding it into the electrical grid.
Palmer Putnam was an MIT geologist. Literature notes he has “no formal education or experience in wind power.” Of course, that was true for everybody in the 1930s. There was no such thing as a wind engineer.
Earlier, in the 1880s, Thomas Perry created the Aermotor company that generated a small amount of electricity for disconnected rural farmers. Aermotor windmills generated enough electricity to run a radio or a small pump. Up to the present time, these types of windmills, with their multiple blades, are familiar in pictures of old farms or movies.
However, Putnam’s windmill was entirely different. His 75-ft (23 meters) blades were, by far, the largest ever built. Russians like building big things and previously the Soviet Union built the largest windmill generator that produced 100-kilowatts, naming it Balaklava. Putnam was aiming for ten-times that amount of electrical output.
General Electric was supportive of the idea and supplied the generator, limited capital, and connections to people. The Dean of Engineering at MIT, Vannevar Bush, reviewed Putnam’s work and agreed the megawatt windmill was a real possibility. A company that built turbines for dams funded most of the project, envisioning a growth opportunity in renewables beyond dams.
However, as Putnam worked to harness winds, the winds of war were blowing across the US. There was a feeling it was only a matter of time until the US entered WWII, where engineers and metal were needed for war.
Like today’s wind turbines, there were only two large blades. When he finally turned the windmill on, in late 1941, it generated 1.25 megawatts.
In 1943, the windmill broke and was stalled until after WWII due to a lack of materials and people. After the war, it functioned for three weeks and broke again, due to a sub-quality wartime repair. Finally, in 1945 a study showed wind power would cost 50% more than coal-fired electrical plants and the project was abandoned.
Today, in 2019, wind power costs less than any other form of power including coal. Windmills require no fuel and emit nothing, unlike coal-fired plants with their harmful emissions. The largest windmills operate offshore and generate 9.5 megawatts of power. Every year, windmills increase in size and capacity while lowering price.