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Maine’s windkeepers: From ship masts to windmills

Today, winds help turn on the lights, run TVs and power washers, dryers and ovens in thousands of homes all over New England.

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Mike Cianchette, operations manager of the Stetson Mountain wind project, scans the mountain ridge while making inspections on top of a 300-foot tall windmill, in Range 8, Township 3, Maine.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP

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Silent surroundings almost tease the ears as clouds skitter across the top of this eastern corner of Maine. The wind, barely audible, swishes through beech and fir trees crowding the hills of an area so remote it’s part of the state’s Unorganized Territory.

Along the rounded ridge of Stetson Mountain, wisps of wind gain a whoosh-whoosh cadence as they push into motion mammoth blades at the tops of towers reaching hundreds of feet into the air.

Those same winds help turn on the lights, run TVs and power washers, dryers and ovens in thousands of homes all over New England. They also help to heat the water for Andy Doak’s shower before he heads out for work just after dawn on a cool summer morning.

On the job, Doak ambles up the ladder inside a windmill, inspecting electrical components, structural bolts and other fittings on one of First Wind’s 38 towers. For an outsider, it’s a daunting and arduous climb, one that brings to mind a sailor’s climb up a ship’s mast long ago, or a lighthouse keeper’s rise to his isolated perch.

It’s no coincidence that Doak, 27, trained as a marine engineer, finds himself tending mountaintop windmills, though he says he never dreamed of this as a student at Maine Maritime Academy.

The winds that once powered fleets of Maine’s storied sailing ships now churn out the juice for a green energy industry the state is breathlessly pursuing. Technology that moves ships through the seas is much the same as what’s applied on the turbines.

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