Clarkson professor creates design well-suited for the Adirondacks
By Chloe Bennett
The thought of wind power likely conjures an image of a towering white turbine catching a breeze in an open field or hilltop, often among dozens of others like it. Generating wind energy advances New York State’s plan away from fossil fuels, currently making up 3.7% of the state’s electricity grid mix.
Developing renewable energy infrastructure in the Adirondack Park, including battery storage, solar panels and wind turbines, usually come with a thorough approval process by the government arms including the Adirondack Park Agency. A regulation last updated in 2002, for example, prohibits structures over 40 feet in the Blue Line, keeping standard wind turbines that can reach several hundred feet from the protected land.
But what if wind energy could be harnessed in the park through a smaller wind turbine? That is a question Clarkson University began answering 20 years ago with the help of Ken Visser, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor at the college. Now, his designs are appearing in the Adirondacks.
As of May 2023, two of his turbines have been installed in the park. Asgaard Farm & Dairy in AuSable Forks received one in 2020, followed by Wild Orchard Farm in Essex in 2022. Next on the docket is the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, which hopes to erect a turbine by the fall.
Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director of the Wild Center, said the idea to install a wind turbine came during the opening night of their Climate Solutions exhibition for members last July, which featured Visser. A person with knowledge of windmills approached Ratcliffe and suggested that the organization install one of Visser’s wind turbines on its campus and offered to contribute some money, she said.
“It all kind of came up really organically,” Ratcliffe said.
The cost of the turbine is around $35,000, and the Wild Center is currently raising money for its installation and underground connection. The Adirondack North Country Association is contributing to the project.
“We want to show all these technologies and show that they can work and then have the real story and the data to let people know what it’s doing for our energy use,” Ratcliffe said. “So we really want to be a demonstration site for all of these kinds of things.”
“But we need to do a lot of work and we need to do it quickly,” she said.
Lowering the cost of wind turbines and constructing them to be suitable for the Adirondacks were priorities of Visser as he began designing the technology, he said. Although the turbines are smaller and less efficient than their larger cousins, Visser said, placing a duct around the blades maximized performance. Ducted windmills were first conceptualized in the 1920s, according to Visser’s company website.
Education and conversation are key to changing people’s minds about renewable energy such as wind power, Visser said. Though for the most part, he has not received pushback on turbine installations because of their contribution to lowering emissions.
“It kind of boils down to, ‘So do you want to be hanging out with your grandchildren or do you not want to be hanging out with your grandchildren?’” he said.
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Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the second turbine was installed at a different farm than Wild Orchard Farm in Essex.