When Palmer Putnam moved to Atascadero in the 1970s, I learned very quickly that he was a genius. One of his inventions was the World War II DUKW, which most of us know as the “Duck.” The vehicle operated on land and water.
But one of his biggest legacies is his contribution to finding a way to generate electricity from wind power. You can’t research the subject of wind power without reading about the exploits of Putnam and the giant windmill he and a team of engineers designed for the S. Morgan Smith Co. in 1941.
Located atop Grandpa’s Knob in Rutland, Vt., the Smith-Putnam machine was the largest in the world, and one of the first to generate electricity commercially for a brief period of time. In 1945, after only a few hundred hours of operation, one of the blades broke off. It was never replaced.
But it worked.
Putnam was sure wind power was going to be a part of our future. It would take until the 1980s for a wind turbine to be built as large as the Putnam-Smith machine. And now there are fields of them generating electricity, especially right here in California.
Putnam also was right about the need for alternative energy sources to reduce this country’s dependence on oil.Wind turbines still continue to meet resistance, just like the proposed solar projects planned for the Carrizo Plain in the eastern portion of San Luis Obispo County.
When I first heard of plans for the solar plants here in this county, I couldn’t imagine anyone would be against them. Finally, I thought, a project that would please everyone with jobs and a nonpolluting source of electricity.
But even after careful scrutiny by the county staff and approval by our county supervisors, there are those who are against them because of the potential threat to some plants and animals.
It seems to me it is time to think about our need for clean energy to support the human animals.
Just like we can’t let a tiny fish dictate California water usage, we can’t let a threat to the kit fox or a tortoise or even a species of plant interfere with the needs of the people.
That may sound harsh, but I’m much more concerned about humans than I am the fox, a frog or a rodent. Many of them will survive anyhow out there on the Carrizo Plain. Once the plant is built, they’ll creep, crawl and hop back to the area and take up residence again.
The California Valley Solar Ranch and the also-approved Topaz Solar Farm make good sense, just as Palmer Putnam’s wind turbine did in 1945.
Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. His column appears here every week. He can be reached at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.