Greater City Providence

Generating electricity from our transmission infrastructure


Metropolis Magazine profiles three French designers who propose installing wind turbines on existing transmission towers.

Delon, who is 31 and an architect, is the recip­ient of Metropolis’s 2009 Next Generation prize, along with Julien Choppin, also a 31-year-old architect, and Raphaël Ménard, a 34-year-old engineer. Their project, Wind-it, addresses this year’s theme—which beseeched entrants to “Fix Our Energy Addiction” — with the effortless simpli­city of a Pythagorean proof. The team proposes inserting wind turbines into existing electrical towers or, where infrastructure is broken or spare, building new towers that double as wind-power generators, thus introducing a fount of renewable energy into an aspect of civilization that’s as certain as taxes. With three potential sizes, the turbine towers could be integrated nearly anywhere: Lille, France, China’s Sichuan Province, or the streets of New York City.

…or the waterfront of Providence, Rhode Island.

The India Point Waterfront would be the ideal location to install wind turbines on existing transmission towers. However happily, there is a plan to remove the transmission towers in this location and put the wires underground. Under the plan, the towers would be removed across the Seekonk River toward the East Providence Waterfront (making way for redevelopment proposals on the East Providence side of the river). The towers skirting the Metacomet Country Club in East Providence would remain. Where the power lines are strung along Lyon Avenue and Fort Street in East Providence is a high point at the head of the bay that may collect enough wind to make such turbines feasible.


Aerial image from Bing maps

Back on the Providence waterfront, we want the transmission towers gone, that is the best outcome for the area for sure. However, we need not remove all the towers, they are perfectly functional infrastructure. We could keep the two towers on Tockwotton Street for example and retrofit them with wind turbines.

If we have existing infrastructure that can be put to positive use, I say use it. The towers on Tockwotton are outside the park along the edge of the highway. What better entrance to Providence than working wind generators? Recycling infrastructure to create green energy seems an apt project for the Creative Capital.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • I agree with the idea that wind turbines on top of transmission towers is a great idea. The downside, however, is that the towers would really only be strong enough for relatively small turbines. Enough to power the lights along that stretch of the highway, for sure. It would be nice to have one in providence in the 2mw range (like in portsmouth) to power most of the city’s lights etc… Here is a chart relating turbine size to tower height.

  • Undoubtedly we need to be looking to large wind turbines too. However, if we can recycle a couple of these towers, even if only to light the Iway Bridge, then we’ve captured a bit of the wind to generate power, and we’ve recycled the towers. I don’t know the numbers, but there may be a cost benefit to not having to remove two of the towers that would help the bottom line of the overall burial project.

    In fact, using the power on site, may be better than trying to feed it into the grid. The resources needed to feed the generators’ power in the lines on the tower present a large part of the cost.

    Metropolis has a graphic indicating the generation potential. The towers at India Point, stripped of electrical wire supports, may be able to accommodate the middle option. The article does state though, that since this is a new concept, prices are high for the technology. If there were a large adoption of them, prices would drop however.

    A similar concept has been done of putting wind turbines on towers not designed for them:

    From Metropolis:

    A marriage of towers and turbines isn’t unheard of. Urban Green Energy, a wind-power start-up in New York, recently mounted turbines atop the French telecom company Alcatel-Lucent’s cellular-communication spires. The turbines are nearly identical to those detailed in Wind-it.

  • We should figure out how the various overlays work — not sure what happens to the towers once removed, who owns them, whether Grid retains their easements at the sites of the current towers, etc. And Grid has a touch-and-go relationship with renewables, so wonder if they’d be a help or a hindrance.

  • Even if the towers didn’t stay in the same spot, reusing them would be less expensive than erecting new ones. Especially if disassembling them is already budgeted for.

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