BY JOHN-LAURENT TRONCHE
Fort Worth Business Press
July 21, 2008
The North Texas area is nationally known as a leader and example of natural gas production, but one company and one individual, both with oil business pasts, could help the Metroplex become known for more alternative energy resources, too.
Grapevine-based GreenHunter Energy Inc., whose CEO comes from oil and gas operator Magnum Hunter Resources Inc. (acquired by Cimarex Energy Inc. in 2005), and famed Texas oil man and Dallas resident T. Boone Pickens both have ramped up their support for alternative energy sources – that is, not oil.
The former is focusing on three main areas of investigation – biofuels, biomass power and wind energy – while Pickens is pushing exclusively for wind power and natural gas, according to his July 8-debuted Pickens Plan.
"Texas has always been a powerhouse in the United States in many ways," said Jack Zedlitz, director of corporate communications at GreenHunter Energy. "In the energy industry, Texas has been a focal point of oil and gas production and remains to be so.
"What a lot of other folks people don’t know is Texas is also the largest wind power producer in the United States.
"I think this is another opportunity for Texas to continue to dominate, not only conventional power and fuel but also renewable energy."
GreenHunter Wind Energy LLC, a subsidiary of GreenHunter Energy, recently acquired a 65 percent stake in a southeastern Wyoming wind development project from Denver-based Wind Revolutions LLC, announced July 15. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe Growth fund, a "significant" shareholder of GreenHunter Energy, will own the remaining 35 percent of the project.
The Wheatland Wind project, known because of its proximity to Wheatland, Wyo., is the largest wind power development project GreenHunter has acquired to date, according to the company’s president, and joins its other projects in development in Montana, California, New Mexico and China, with more in the proverbial pipeline. None of the projects is in operation yet, though Zedlitz said the company expects its first two test turbines to be up and running in Montana around the second quarter of 2009.
The Wheatland project will be located on about 20,000 acres of land and could generate up to 600 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 144,000 homes.
Meanwhile, Pickens Plan and Pickens himself are receiving a bevy of media attention as well as support from individuals who have signed up to join the initiative on www.pickensplan.com.
Pickens, formerly of Mesa Petroleum Co. (eventually Mesa Limited Partnership), became famous in the 1960s through the 1980s for his acquisitions – both successful and failed – of other oil and gas operators. Since the late 1990s, however, Pickens increasingly has focused on natural gas as an alternative to the United States’ worsening "addiction" to foreign oil, according to the Pickens Plan Web site.
Pickens certainly isn’t the first to promote natural gas as an alternative to oil.
Capitol Hill lobbying firm American Clean Skies Foundation, created and headed by Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey K. McClendon, has pushed since April 2007 to encourage congressional leaders to view natural gas in an increasingly favorable light.
Despite the recent attention to alternative fuel sources, the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association’s executive director said other renewable energy initiatives – "solar energy, biomass, geothermal, and hydro sectors" – need the same support wind is currently receiving.
"It’s mostly wind right now, but I see a lot of interest in the other sectors," said Russel E. Smith, who oversees the Austin-based organization, which includes more than 400 member companies based worldwide. "But depending on the individual sectors, it’s been a rocky road on whether we’re actually going to do something … We’ve had inconsistent policy at the state level that has resulted in (non-wind efforts) zooming and then crashing."
Smith said these other efforts are "mired in what I think is a failure to really understand the potential and the benefits of what renewable energy could mean for the state," he said. "And if I could go a bit further, it’s a failure to understand the need for it as well."
Once the state and its residents recognize that necessity, he said, then diversity should follow suit.
"I believe a diversified engine will be a powerful engine that will put us at an advantage around the country and around the world," Smith said.
Zedlitz agrees the public will be a big factor in the move away from dead dinosaurs.
"This is a pressure that will only continue to mount as the public gets more and more concerned about the impact of fossil fuels."
Contact Tronche at jtronche @ bizpress.net
GreenHunter awaits turbines’ debut
In late 2007, GreenHunter Energy Inc. announced its $10 million partnership with MingYang Wind Power Technology Co., a Guang Dong Province, People’s Republic of China-based turbine manufacturer, which bases its designs off those of German-manufacturer aerodyne Energiesysteme GmbH.
GreenHunter’s 6.3 percent stake in MingYang will give the Grapevine-based company access to all 25 percent of the Chinese turbine manufacturer’s exports – allowing GreenHunter to begin testing the turbines in 2009.
"The problem that smaller developers face going to the bigger turbine manufacturers is you can’t get [the turbines] soon enough," said Jack Zedlitz, the company’s director of corporate communications. "If we were to go to [General Electric], we wouldn’t get them until 2011."
GreenHunter initially will acquire 108 of the machines, which are 80-feet-tall, 1.5 megawatt models.
"We’re excited to get them up and spinning and certainly with any new technology, or rather latest design, there is always a certain amount of unknown," said Zedlitz, but added the company’s engineers have met with MingYang engineers in China to ensure their reliability and energy-production estimates.
– John-Laurent Tronche
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