Boone Becomes - Windmill City

Today's quiz; what had 2000 kilowatts, created devotees called 'wooshies', was the largest of its kind in the world, and didn't work? Answer; the U.S. Department of Energy wind-powered electric generator constructed on Howard's Knob in October, 1978.


Boone Becomes - Windmill CityStanding 131 feet high, sporting two 97 foot blades that rotated counterclockwise at 35 miles an hour, the windmill generated much fanfare when it was announced that the knob had been chosen for the largest working model designed to convert wind power to electricity.

Managed by NASA and operated by BREMCO, the windmill was hoped to be part of a renewal energy movement begun under President Jimmy Carter.

The Federal Energy Research and Development Administration had begun their research into wind-powered energy in 1973, with Howard's Knob selected as one of 17 sites, and 1n 1977 announced that Boone would be the location of the granddaddy of them all; a $6.2 million, ten-story, 350-ton, 2000 kW (two million watts) monster built by General Electric.

It was hoped that the windmill would generate enough electricity for 300 to 500 average size homes at winds of 25 mph. Even without the subsequent election of Ronald Reagan, who pulled the federal funding for alternative energy source research and development, the indications soon showed Howard's Knob generation less of electricity than of eccentricity.

The woosh of the steel blades - actually through the blades as they stood stock-still - was producing less power than pranksters, as a local group of college students started a group called the Wooshies.

The Charlotte Observer took full journalistic advantage with a story on a "full-blown mythical cult," and a lead that if you placed a giant windmill in front of ten thousand college students "someone had to tilt."

Three students produced a twenty-minute '60 Minutes' style spoof of the DOE project, with narrator 'Morley Water' interviewing locals from the Boone Drug's Joe Miller to a store mannequin. Head Wooshie and filmmaker Bill Le received a B-minus grade for the film.

The Wooshies may have begun the poking of fun, but more serious was what tourists and locals alike observed from down in town; the blades more often than not didn't move, thereby not generating any electricity.

Some claimed to have seen puffs of smoke arising from out of the housing area on top of the tower. Too heavy, problems linking the blades to the hub, left to rotate in reverse and burning out the engines, whatever; some experiments fail.

In the struggle for the public consciousness, the Wooshies undoubtedly prevailed over the would-be whirligig, with sardonic knick-knacks sold in the town, and mock ceremonies alluded to in published reports. And local attitudes toward the federal government?

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