Vineyard Unplugged: South Mountain turbine is a start

By Martha Shaw, October 21, 2004

Tim Mathiesen looks forward to the day when more electric meters are spinning backwards.

Peter D’Angelo is project foreman of South Mountain’s new wind turbine which has three 12-foot blades on a 100-foot tower.

When they set out to build earth-friendly homes, South Mountain Company craftsmen look to the most likely energy sources available on the Island – wind and sun.

“South Mountain offers the Island an opportunity to master the science of harnessing wind, as well as solar energy. What people need is incentive,” says project foreman Peter D’Angelo. “Decades ago, there were energy credits that catalyzed a boom in alternative energy companies. During the President Reagan era when these incentives died down, so did much of the wind business.”

One of the wind technology companies to survive was Bergey Windpower of Oklahoma. As today’s leading U.S. small turbine manufacturer, Bergey was South Mountain’s turbine of choice for the 10-kilowatt wind turbine on Red Arrow Road in West Tisbury, which will be unveiled on Oct. 30.

“Our first wind turbine proposal was a home in Edgartown on the Great Pond, but we couldn’t get a permit,” Peter says, explaining South Mountain’s decision to erect its turbine. “To prove to the Island how smart, unobtrusive, and doable a turbine can be, we decided to put one up at South Mountain for people to see. Wind is so simple and it makes so much sense. We bought a 100-foot tower and a generator with 12-foot blades. We raised it up in just two days.”

South Mountain’s turbine system will ultimately cost close to $60,000. Conservatively, it could pay for itself in about 20 years, when we can expect energy prices to have reached a critical point.

“I grew up in an era when there was an environmental movement fueled by an energy crisis. For me,” says Peter, “wind turbines and solar panels are simply common sense. It’s the lack of incentive for switchover that holds people back. That, and the fear of change. In other parts of the world, wind energy is assumed and has been for hundreds of years.”

Techno-guru Tim Mathiesen is the numbers guy behind the turbine project. “If we assume an average wind speed of 13 mph, we’re looking at production of 13,000 kilowatt-hours of power a year,” he estimates. “That’s roughly half of our operational energy needs.” For comparison, the average Vineyard family of four uses 6,000 kilowatt-hours per year. One such turbine would generate the energy for about two households, or more if those households were to adopt energy efficient measures.

Martha’s Vineyard Airport collects fairly good wind data. If it’s a windy year, the average wind speed might be closer to 17 mph, which would generate about 17,000 kilowatt-hours of power a year. The electrons generated by the turbines follow the path of least resistance, first to power the facility and next into the utility lines as surplus. In this case, the electrical meter spins backwards and the energy is sold back to NStar.

Wind machines are not new to the Vineyard. During the energy crisis of the 70s, early designs of all kinds existed around the Island. These disappeared as energy became cheaper again and the nation’s oil supply was less endangered.

For both Peter and Tim, the wind turbine project is a chance to do something environmentally conscious while helping the Island become more independent. “It’s a perfect time for a resurgence of wind energy,” Tim Mathiesen says with excitement. “Technology has improved, and the need for renewable energy has never been more critical. We hope this turbine will be the first of many.”

Project manager Phil Forest adds, “Wind is part of the solution to problems here on the Island and elsewhere in the world. Wind energy doesn’t cause oil wars, or pollute our air, water and soil. It gives us a shot at energy independence, something Islanders have coped with throughout history.”

South Mountain goes beyond wind and solar energy when building environmentally conscious houses. The builders use recycled and sustainable construction materials wherever possible. They also fuel their construction equipment with bio-diesel, 100 percent soybean oil purchased from Packer R. M. in Vineyard Haven.

There will be an open house at South Mountain Company at 1-4 pm on Saturday, Oct. 30, where you can see the new turbine and find out about other energy alternatives, including solar-electric and hot water systems.

For more information on Island energy projects or how you can benefit by using renewable energy and energy efficiency, go to

This is the first of a series of articles sponsored by the Vineyard Energy Project through a grant from the Department of Energy’s Million Solar Roofs program. The Vineyard Energy Project promotes sustainable energy choices through education, outreach and renewable energy projects that serve as models for other communities. Martha Shaw is a member of Vineyard Unplugged, a citizens energy group organized after the Community Energy Workshop in April 2003. The Times publishes these columns as a service to its readers.