The wind turbine pictured above is turned on its side, but it isn’t broken. The 11-foot blades are suspended just above the ground at one end with a 2,000-pound counterbalance pitched into the air at the other. It was lowered from a height of 80 feet to test the ability to bring it down quickly should stormy weather move into the area or should the migratory birds attempt to flock past the blades.

The wind turbine can be lowered at the flip of a switch, and that ability is the key reason it was constructed on Appledore—the largest of the nine Isles of Shoals, six miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine. The islands are the site of the Shoals Marine Lab (SML) operated by Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The island also is home to one of the six atmospheric observatories run by UNH in the region as part of its AIRMAP program, which seeks to study air quality and the climate connections in New England downwind from major U.S. urban emission sources.

Until now, with the wind turbine generating potential at 7.5 kilowatts of power, scientific study was conducted only during the summer months when the island’s diesel generators churned away before being shut down in late summer.

“We just don’t have a picture of what happens in the atmosphere out here in the winter, and that really led us to evaluate an alternative energy source,” said Kevan Carpenter, AIRMAP project director.

After considering the alternatives, Carpenter suggested a collapsible wind turbine as the most practical and sustainable method of keeping the observatory operating year-round. It took nearly two years of paperwork to get the turbine up and running because of the complexities involved with placing the 80-foot tower on the small, remote island where the SML has operated a bird-banding station since the 1970s.

In addition to allowing the AIRMAP observatory to operate year-round, Carpenter notes that the wind turbine is helping to spawn greater possibilities for the application of sustainable technologies and related educational opportunities through the SML. The lab installed eight solar panels that generate some 2.2 kilowatts of power. In the future, more panels could be installed, and if all should fare well with the island’s bird population, a larger wind turbine could be installed to bump up the electricity generation.

As far as AIRMAP’s need for year-round air quality and climate data, the program’s principal investigator, Robert Talbot, noted that, in order to accurately look at and understand the complexities of the atmosphere in this region where marine and continental air masses converge, data from all seasons are needed.

“With just five months of data, you get a snapshot, and it doesn’t provide the type of information you need to understand the big picture,” he said.

Now that the program has a wind turbine, it will be able to see the picture all year round.   EC