Monday, October 20, 2008

Renewable Energies

The e-mail went out too late on Saturday night; a last-minute attempt to get some people together for a hike up Mt. Tom the next day. Sadly the responses came back, all negative. Everyone had previous duties and plans to attend to. Kelly was also off doing her own stuff for the day, so well, I'd have to go it alone then. But first, so that I wouldn't feel like I was completely shirking my responsibilities in favor of loafing around on a hike; I took care of a little leaf blowing and raking. To wit:

Man expends energy, to make life easier.

Getting that done, I finally set out for the hike about 3 o'clock. On the way I notice that my friend Dave LeBeouf had left a message on my cell phone, saying he was in on the hike. I happily called back, and he'd meet me there.

We met up at the base of the mountain around 3:30, with maybe less than 3 hours of sun light left in the day. My original plan was to hike to the summit, then go across the ridge line of the mountain about three-quarters of a mile, to a mysterious Wind Turbine located there, around the top of the old Mt. Tom ski area. You've probably seen the turbine, it's pretty big. In fact, it was the largest wind turbine in all of Massachusetts when it was first installed. Unfortunately though, Dave didn't think he'd have enough time to extend the hike beyond the summit, as he had to meet his folks afterwards for dinner. Ok, good enough, the summit it is.

It was a glorious day for a hike, and we passed many people who had the same idea. At the top there was a gaggle of kids hanging out on the ledges, next to the graffiti previously laid down by other gaggles of kids.

We had made good time getting to the top, and briefly walked among the radio antennae, until Dave looked down along the ridge line and spotted the turbine in the distance. "That? Is that what you were talking about hiking to?"

I nodded affirmative. He stared for a bit, trying to gauge the distance. "Alright, I think I have time to reach that" he said. "It might be farther than it looks, the turbine is pretty big..." I warned. We set out along the first trail we saw going in that direction. It turned out to be a pretty remarkable trail, weaving in and out of the woods and along the ledges and sheer cliffs of the range.

Not too far into the trail, we came across a less scenic camp site, though complete with facilities.

Nearby was a pair of glasses, some silverware, and a tarp. Some one's doing themselves some mountain living.

Continuing on, the hike along the top of the Mt. Tom range is simply amazing views after incredible views after amazing views.

Some giant, musically adept wood troll dropped his tuning fork.

In between the stunning scenery are stunning rock formations, towering cliff sides and deep crevices that plunge into the abyss below.

Always in the distance, is the now colorful town of Easthampton.

It almost looked like a hamlet of old, lying peacefully in the valley below.

The scarring left behind by the weight of advancing and retreating glaciers, apparent on most of the bare rock on the Mt. Tom and Mt. Holyoke ranges, is especially visible on sections of this hike.

I'm not sure what these are, but I imagine they're cracks from expansion and contraction. Or, more imaginatively, fossilized tree branches???

We were getting close to the turbine now, and it's true size was now becoming apparent.

We crossed over a few more fascinating lookouts, one of which was taken up by a photographer thoroughly engrossed in his work.

We finally reached the base of the tower.

Across the generator section of the turbine, we could make out the letters UMASS, emblazoned on the side.

I had been by here just once before, years and years ago, but I don't remember seeing the turbine up close like this. One thing I know is that I've never seen it actually moving, and the missing panels on the generator body next to the UMASS logo seems to confirm that the turbine in not in operation, and is or has been worked on. Half-way down the support tower some weather equipment looked more operational. The small wind speed arms were whirring away, and some small solar panels looked like much newer equipment.

The tower was placed here for experimental and testing purposes, late in 1994. It was picked up by UMASS from a wind farm in California, where it delivered 250 kilowatts of electricity when it was operational. That's pretty good, but 250 kilowatts is not very powerful compared to the 1.5 megawatt turbines that are being put up all over the globe nowadays. But 250 kilowatts is still better than the zero watts this one is currently putting out.

For various reasons there's been strong opposition to wind turbines in Massachusetts, and ironically, by environmentalists. The most recent protests have been in the town of Florida in the Berkshires, and also out on the water off of Cape Cod.

They generate clean, endless energy, and their slim aerodynamically graceful white props slowly turning in the breeze seem almost natural in action and appearance. Personally, I think they're beautiful and useful examples of form following function, and a function we need. Luckily the technology is picking up steam, and there are continued attempts locally and in other areas of New England, to set up more turbines.

I wanted to explore the area around the turbine further, but Dave had to get back, and quick. We huffed it back down the ridge and down to the cars in about half an hour.

It was a great hike; and my energies were renewed...


LarryK4 said...

If the state can sell its airplane then maybe Umass should sell the wind turbine to help offset budget cuts.

I hear scrap metal is doing well...

Anonymous said...

Gonna have to disagree w/you on their beauty. You might want to check out reality. That cute little thing on top of Mt Tom is not a wind 'turbine'
Visit Searsburg and you may have a different opinion

Tony said...

Anon, the beauty comment is just my opinion; I can't think of any other power generator that is as aesthetically pleasing...

It's a good thing that turbine wreck in Vermont wasn't near any buildings or people, as they shouldn't be. It's still a relatively new technology, there's bound to be some bugs to work out, as they get bigger and more powerful. (By the way that article says that failed turbine worked for 11 years in one of the harshest weather conditions around...)

Tony said...

Hah, Larry you don't miss an oppurtunity to turn the screw a little more on that college...

AdamH said...

Gah! Beautiful pictures but when you're afraid of heights, not so much... Ironically, it was hiking the top of Mt. Tom when I was 10 that made me discover I was afraid of heights. :(

Tony said...

Don't let that stop you from trying it again Adam, the views are worth it..!

VanDog said...

Every time I play the leaf blower vid my cat looks scared and runs off.

Tony said...

I probably should have given an 'ear protection required' warning befor that video...