County sees jobs in wind plan

Start-up firm says it will employ 50 at new turbine plant

HUDSON–21st-century wind power may be headed for Columbia County. At a presentation last week to 40 county and state leaders, principals of Aerocity Wind Power LLC, a start-up company that plans to make and market a new type of wind powered electrical generation system, announced plans to open a plant here that could employ 50 people.

The presentation at Space 360 on Warren Street provided an overview of the company, which has its headquarters in lower Manhattan, and included its view of the market opportunities as well as “the expected growth of our company and how that relates to our need for more people to work for us here and in New York City,” said Russell Tencer, the company’s chief executive officer. He spoke by phone conversation this week, a few days after the Hudson event.

 

The county is already home base for the solar energy manufacturing and installation firm Sundog Solar in Chatham. And there have been efforts in recent years to restart a mothballed hydroelectric plant in Stuyvesant. At least one conventional wind turbine has already been granted permission to operate in the county to produce electricity for a small knitting factory at a Gallatin sheep farm.

Mr. Tencer said the Aerocity plant proposed for Columbia County plant would assemble wind turbines from components created locally, balancing and testing the turbines before shipping them to customers possibly in New York City, Massachusetts, along the Great Lakes or at sites in Atlantic Ocean, all places where there are likely to be reliable breezes to turn the turbines and generate electricity. “Columbia County is a good location to manufacture that is central to main market areas,” he said.

Mr. Tencer expects his company to employ around 50 people in its first 3 to 5 years, and to “catalyze” close to 500 jobs during the next five-year period inside and outside the company, as the firm and its suppliers grow.

The company says it is now in the final stages of its start-up development phase, assembling its financing, building demonstration models in locations where people have expressed interest, including the state Office of General Services in Watertown, a high-wind area, and in New York City, which will build a pilot project.

Aerocity says it has applied for a patent on its own wind turbine design, but it has already licensed the right to produce a strikingly new type of device invented by Bil Becker, the CEO of Aeortecture International, a Chicago company.

The Aerotecture  design looks more like a large hamster exercise cage or an outdoor sculpture than a traditional wind turbine. Its thin, helical blades are contained within a cylinder made of screening. Aerocity executives could not be reached for follow-up questions about their design, but they did say earlier that their company is taking its first orders for its 12-foot-tall turbines, which are designed to sit atop skyscrapers and houses, or perch on poles at least 50 feet tall, or mountain ridges, or hang below bridges suspended on cables.

The technology and design represent a significant change from the tall shafts topped with the huge, three-blade propellers that populate wind farms from Ellenville to California and sites abroad. The company believes that once its devices are in production, they may provide cost-effective, renewable wind energy in a cheaper, cleaner, more aesthetically appealing form.

Aerocity Wind Products might never have come to Columbia County if former Kinderhook Supervisor Doug McGiveny had not alerted Ken Flood, head of the county Planning and Economic Development Department, to the company’s existence. Mr. Flood went to a presentation in Kingston last year and immediately reached out to the fledgling company.

“They said no other county would help them out because they were still in the planning stages,” said Mr. Flood this week. “Columbia County is willing and needs to attract businesses like this that are working on green energy alternatives. We need to get in on the ground floor with them. We provided financial assistance in the form of a deferred loan for two-and-a-half years. When they start operating their plant, they can begin to repay the loan,” he said.

In addition to the $75,000 loan from Columbia County, the company received $1 million from NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Mr. Tencer said the money is being used for product development, testing and marketing.

In 2008 Aerocity presented its plans to politicians and economic development officials from Ulster and Dutchess County.

Mr. Becker of Aerotecture confirmed this week that his company issued Aerocity a license in 2007 “to bring our product into manufacture in a year.” But he was unaware of the company’s current plan, saying, “We get very little concrete information from them.”

Mr. Tencer, the Aerocity CEO, does not expect the kind of public resistance to his product that the larger windmills inspire. “The way we are approaching it, we think of it as an appliance, like air conditioning units, televisions or satellite dishes. This is a wind appliance that will be very attractive, with different patterns and colors that can be matched to the property.” He said he is confident the company will be able to compete successfully, but he acknowledged, “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Mr. Tencer, 30, studied design and architecture at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City before embarking on a career in investment banking at Parker Boston, an investment bank he helped found. In the course of his investment banking career he help start-up companies with strategy and capital needs. Now one of those start-ups, Aerocity, has hired him as its CEO, and he is now studying wind engineering at NYU.

Bill Jacoby, a lawyer and Aerocity’s vice president in charge of government relations, is a resident of Claverack. He raises grant money for the company, and he said he was gratified by the positive reaction of local leaders to last Thursday’s presentation.

The company says its turbines will cost in the range of $15,000 to $20,000 per unit, not including installation. One aspect of the design is that the units are meant to function in a way that will not harm birds. Environmentalists are concerned about the death of birds, especially migratory birds, killed by the blades of large wind turbines. But the reflective surfaces and slower speed of moving parts–the units do not exceed about 250rpm–will address that concern, the company says. Blades on larger turbines can run at 400 rpm, at which point they become a blur invisible to birds.

In addition to the industrial products the company will offer, the company is also marketing wind assessment software to assess wind data from the nearest airport as well as other relevant data to help potential customers determine whether one of the units will work effectively at a particular residential or commercial site.

The company says that in general locations at higher elevations, near open space and a large body of water are most promising for wind energy installations.

The Aerocity Wind Products are 12 feet tall and eight feet in diameter and have light, helix-shaped blades that rotate around a central shaft. The company says they produce very little sound and need less wind than large-scale industrial wind turbines require. They generate far less electricity per unit than the large turbines, but they also produce fewer vibrations and raise fewer safety or maintenance concerns. Those factors, the company says, make them more suitable for urban or residential applications. They are designed so they can generate energy close to the consumers who use it, and the company says that many are being installed alongside solar panels.

Among those attending were Assemblyman Tim Gordon (I-108th), representatives of Congressman Scott Murphy (D-20th), state Senator Steve Saland (R-41st), Assemblyman Marc Molinaro (R-103rd), a number of county supervisors and Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera.

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