Tulsa Key Player In Wind Energy Future

Friday, November 14th 2008, 6:31 pm
By: News On 6

By Terry Hood, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The field of renewable energy was hot this summer when gas prices topped $4 a gallon.  Those prices have dropped now, but most believe the quest for alternative energy is just getting started.  Wind energy in particular has been in the limelight, largely due to the efforts of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens.  The News On 6 found the ripple effects of the new energy boom are already being felt in Tulsa.

Welcome to Nolan County, Texas.  It is America's Wind Capitol.  If the county were a nation, it would rank 6th in the world in wind energy production.  And, they're still building.  Some of the towers at work there are built in Tulsa.

Greg Wortham of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium believes it's just the first phase of a wave that will transform the Midwest.

"Oklahoma, Kansas, all up and down the great plains.  It's very doable.  And, it's comprehensive economic development," said Greg Wortham.

At the Port of Catoosa, the transformation has already begun.

"We have a tremendous amount of interest in what Tulsa can do and a lot of folks are vying for our capacity right now," said Kevin Ishmael with DMI Industries.

DMI Industries opened a new manufacturing plant to build wind towers at the port just last winter.  The plant started with 200 workers.  Now, they're running three shifts and expect to double their workforce by the end of the year.   Even General Manager Kevin Ishmael is surprised by the interest he's seeing in wind energy.

"We have folks leaving other jobs and coming here for less money just because they want to be part of the wind industry," said Kevin Ishmael with DMI Industries.

He also admits the added attention from by Boone Pickens hasn't hurt.

"Let's put it this way, the only other Okie as happy as I was was probably Mike Gundy," said Kevin Ishmael with DMI Industries.

But along with celebrity, the wind industry needs dollars.  It is a big and expensive operation.  Ishmael says the company's already spent $36 million to get the plant up and running and they're adding another $20 million for the second phase.

"It's really the right time.  We're at a perfect storm for the industry," said Kevin Ishmael with DMI Industries.

That perfect storm is also brewing in the executive offices of downtown Tulsa.

We think it's going to be a real growth area in Oklahoma for the next 10 to 20 years," said attorney Richard Edmondson.

Edmonson is part of the new renewable energy practice group at Hall Estill, one of Tulsa's largest law firms.  Interest in alternative energy has come and gone before.  But, Edmonson says there's a growing consensus that this time is different.

"The nation now understands, I believe, that this is more than an economic issue.  It's a national security issue.  And so, I think this time this has some real staying power," said attorney Richard Edmondson.

The Oklahoma Department of Commerce agrees.  It estimates that within five years, the wind industry could create almost 7,000 jobs in Oklahoma, generating $1.5 billion in personal income.

Related Story:

11/13/2008  Wind Energy: Oklahoma's Big Windfall?