Harnessing the wind

Thousands of huge wind turbines have sprouted up across the United States. Mike Cianchette is one of the people who maintain these mammoth machines. Check out the view from his office.

A new 30 percent tax credit for renewable energy investments will mean a whirlwind of new wind power activity, the American Wind Energy Association predicts.

The tax credit, part of the federal stimulus package, should increase the percentage of wind machinery made in U.S. factories, the industry says. "The domestic share," now at 50 percent, "can increase further with the stimulus funding now beginning to flow, coupled with a strong, long-term policy commitment," according to AWEA CEO Denise Bode.

Existing U.S. wind farms include this one on Stetson Mountain in eastern Maine. Each blade is 122 feet long. Each tower was lifted into place section-by-section by cranes so big they had to be hauled to the site in several pieces and reassembled.

The Stetson project, now New England's largest at 38 turbines, can turn out enough electricity to power about 23,500 homes.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Left: Andy Doak climbs one of the 300-foot-tall towers at Stetson. He makes the arduous climb daily to inspect electrical components, structural bolts and other fittings.

Right: Doak exits a tower after an inspection. Doak, 27, never dreamed of this job as a student at Maine Maritime Academy where he became a marine engineer. But he's grateful now. "This is as good as it gets, right here. This is the best view you're going to get around these areas," he said while atop a tower, locked in a safety harness. "It's pretty humbling."

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Andy Doak inspects the generator inside a wind turbine housing. The blades atop each tower drive a horizontal shaft about 2 feet in diameter. The shaft spins a turbine, which makes electricity that's sent down the tower to a transformer. From there, it's sent by overhead lines to the nearest utility, Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Mike Cianchette, operations manager at Stetson, checks his safety line before making inspections on top of a 300-foot-tall tower. "I came from a 15-by-10 cubicle with one window," Cianchette said as he gazed over the panorama below. "This is my office. What more can you say about it? This is absolutely fantastic."

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Stetson's 38 wind turbines are just a fraction of those across the United States -- in 2008 alone 5,000 turbines went up.

Maine isn't even among the top wind power producers. Texas, Iowa, California, Minnesota and Washington lead the nation in growth of wind capacity. Minnesota and Iowa led the nation in terms of percentage of total electricity that comes from wind. Each state is just over 7 percent.

Noise and bird deaths from the whirling blades have had an environmental impact in places, but environmental groups are solid backers of wind power when it's sited appropriately: away from homes and bird routes.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP