Turbine Timeline: 1970s

Oil Prices Skyrocket & AWEA Emerges in the 1970s

1973

  • The OPEC Oil Embargo triggers an energy crisis. Americans experience spikes in gas prices, long lines at the pump, and renewed interest in obtaining energy domestically through energy sources that will never run out.
  • Pioneers of the wind industry – a handful of environment-minded engineers fix up abandoned, 1930s-era, 20-kilowatt (KW) wind turbines across the Great Plains, then start their own small businesses to sell the turbines.

1974

  • Allen O’Shea begins sharing his vision of uniting turbine-tinkering innovators and renewable energy entrepreneurs nationwide in a mission to power American communities through wind energy. At the time, O’Shea sells solar and wind equipment through Detroit-based Environmental Energies Inc.
  • O’Shea convenes the first AWEA meeting in the basement of a Detroit police station, which offered a free space across from the Environmental Energies store. The meeting convenes right before the huge 1974 World Energy Congress, which brings thousands of energy leaders to Detroit. On Sept. 17, 1974, O’Shea becomes AWEA’s first president of the board, and he signs AWEA’s charter with the movers and shakers of the nascent wind industry.
  • The first federal wind R&D program is passed. President Gerald Ford signs the Solar Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Act, which provides significant funding for accelerated research in renewable energy. This funding comes through the National Science Foundation’s existing “Research Applied to National Needs” (RANN) program and includes a $24.5 million wind technology program.

1975

  • NASA uses National Science Foundation funding to create an industry for wind turbines that works with America’s utility grid, granting contracts to manufacturers with the most promising turbine designs. Based on its expertise in aeronautics fuel efficiency and interest in new energy sources for air and space, NASA commissions large-scale, experimental wind turbines with different designs across the late 1970s and early 1980s. These turbines set world records for power output and rotor size, and they pioneer many of the multi-megawatt turbine technologies in use today.
  • NASA installs the first large-scale test turbine, the 100 kW MOD-0, at a research center in Sandusky, Ohio. The prototype’s rotor consists of two,125-foot-long blades – over twice the length of the longest helicopter blades at the time. However, the experimental turbine it is not a fully functioning machine.
  • Energy Research Development Association (ERDA) is established to unify the federal government's expanding energy research development activities into one agency. ERDA later becomes the Department of Energy.
  • AWEA holds its first annual conference at the University of Colorado at Boulder. About 125 people interested in wind power attend the conference. This conference would be named “WINDPOWER®” in the mid-1980s.

1976

  • Forerunner turbine: the 25 kW WF-1. With its National Science Foundation grant, the University of Massachusetts builds a 25-kW wind turbine with three 33-foot blades. It serves as the model for turbines sold by U.S. Windpower, an original AWEA member and the most successful early U.S. turbine manufacturer.

1977

  • U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is created. President Jimmy Carter signs legislation creating the DOE, a federal agency that provides funding for renewable energy programs, as well as a variety of other energy and defense-related activities.

1978

  • AWEA moves to Washington, D.C., and engages in federal policy with a focus on funding wind energy research.
  • The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) requires utilities to buy electricity generated by renewable resources, including wind. This legislation creates a wholesale U.S. market for wind energy.
  • The Energy Tax Act includes a 15 percent tax credit on investments to wind developers. AWEA, led by its first Executive Director, Ben Wolff, actively advocated for this tax credit.