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A Brief History of the Wind Industry

Posted on by Kurz Industrial Solutions

Hello! My name is Dan Frantz, the newest member of the Kurz Wind Team. I’m thankful to be working within the Wind Industry with Kurz Industrial Solutions and wanted to share my experiences throughout the process from initial research to my take on the wind industry itself now that I’ve been here for four months. This is a three-part blog, so be on the lookout for parts two and three over the coming weeks!

Wind Energy Careers are Taking 2019 by Storm

“Thanks for interviewing with us today.  We will be getting back in touch with you soon.”

The interviewee walks out of the office with their chin to their chest realizing the job was not all the Indeed posting cracked out to be.

For months, I was that frustrated interviewee hopelessly searching to get out of industries built on false promises and volatile futures. Out of my dissatisfaction, I decided to pursue a career in Wind.

It’s safe to assume at some point in everyone’s early careers they ask themselves the question, “Where can I work to accelerate my career?”  The following three-part blog series is a compilation of months of research, data analysis (see Bureau of Labor Statistics) and subjective feedback leading me to believe it is the best career choice for 2019 and beyond. Wind Energy has been on an interesting journey to becoming what it is today, and I highly recommend to look into any job opportunities within this industry.

A Brief Introduction to Wind Energy in the US

Wind wasn’t always a growing market in the US, and its process of adoption was neither prompt nor easy. The U.S. had to evolve from a small, steel windmill – primarily used to pump water for agriculture on farms – to massive energy-producing machines keeping the lights on for millions of homes and businesses a year.

The growth from windmills to what wind turbines look like today.

The History

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter developed governmental incentives, tax credits, and a handful of programs to catalyze the growth of alternative domestic energy production sources.  Simultaneously, California Governor Jerry Brown wanted to spearhead the wind energy growth in his state with PURPA – The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act.  This was meant to generate more efficient domestic energy production means. Thus, the wind generation officially began.

Entrepreneurs jumped on the opportunity and took advantage of the political climate and tax incentives to begin building profitable businesses on the back of wind energy.  One such entrepreneur, Jim Dehsel, decided to create his own company, Zond (now GE Wind) and disproportionately catalyzed the growth of wind technology in California. 

From sourcing turbines to installing the towers, the process appeared to be seamless and a surefire way to spur economic and environmental development.  The ease of business growth was only a facade.

As Ben Blackwell points out in his book Wind Power, Dehsel’s company, Zond, was attempting to finish installation of wind turbines in the Tehachapi Pass during a December 1980 blizzard as a means to qualify for the lucrative tax credits:

“As soon as we started turning the turbines on, they disintegrated.”

Towers were crushed and disheveled, and workers disheartened and defeated.  Zond had to go back to the drawing board after the misery that ensued during the winter storm of 1980.

Spinning Bad into Better

On New Year’s Day, 1981, Dehlsen decided it was a necessity to find better turbines and more advanced technology. Meeting after meeting with United States turbine manufacturers only frustrated Mr. Dehlsen. Swiftly, he decided to go to Europe as the turbines were more robust and mature in the market.

Upon arriving, Dehlsen scheduled to meet the son of Vestas’ owner (Vestas is a Denmark-based wind turbine manufacturer and currently one of the largest in the world) that evolved into a strong relationship and hundreds of purchased Vestas turbines over the following few years for Zond.  

Fast forward to 1985, and Dehlsen was expecting a shipment of 1,200 turbines from Vestas to California by December 1.  The turbines had to be in the US by that date, otherwise, Zond would not be able to qualify for the lucrative tax credits offered in the States.  Vestas and Zond coordinated plenty of time for the order to be delivered, and success was assured.

The D-Day of Wind

The shipping company that was paid to deliver the turbines went bankrupt and delayed the reception of the turbines beyond the December 1st due date.  Zond had no choice but to refuse the order.  Consequently, Vestas went bankrupt and Zond went into full defensive mode to avoid collapse. 

Wind energy took time to bounce back.  European markets were at the forefront of technology as more and more energy companies sold off their traditional energy production arms to go full-scale into Wind. We saw Vestas become Vestas Wind Systems A/S in 1987, and Zond wind set the precedent for more companies to get involved in Wind after the 1986 U.S. tax credits were rolled back.

Eventually, Zond did make a return to constructing wind farms in California.  In recent years, they were acquired by GE Wind, now one of the largest scale wind turbine manufacturers in the world (Vestas is largest, currently holding 16% of the market share). While it took many years, the turbines you see across America today are profitably operating with highly skilled workers.

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