The largest wind machine in the United States started generating electricity in late July in Hawaii. The Mod-5B wind-powered turbine, located on the northern tip of the island of Oahu, is rated at 3.2 megawatts and is expected to generate enough clean electricity to supply the needs of 1300 homes. The machine was developed at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and paid for by the Department of Energy.
The turbine is based on new technology that allows its 320-ft (∼100-m) rotor to operate at variable speeds to suit changing wind conditions. It is the result of 15 years of federally sponsored research at NASA-Lewis. Conventional turbines operate at a fixed speed. After 6 months of tests, Mod-5B will be taken over and operated by the Hawaiian Electric Company, under a sales agreement with NASA. The turbine was located at the northend of Oahu primarily because of the high incidence of steady trade winds in that part of the Hawaiian chain. Renewable energy sources like the turbine are also desirable in Hawaii because of the high cost of electricity on the islands, which is principally the result of the need to import all diesel fuel and a prohibition on nuclear power plants in the state.