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Turbine Company Harnesses Wind Power

by Margaret Allen
Dallas Business Journal, December 23, 2005

High energy costs and green building initiatives
could boost interest in the rooftop units

Fort Worth real estate mogul Ross Perot Jr. will be among the first to use a new alternative energy invention from a Plano-based company -- the Mag-Wind rooftop turbine, which uses wind to generate electricity.

Mag-Wind Co. L.L.C. in February will install one of its first five pre-production models -- possibly the one nicknamed "Toto" by its inventor -- atop the developer's Victory office building in downtown Dallas.

"We are allowing them to put a turbine on the Victory marketing center," said David Pelletier, a spokesman for Perot. "It will allow us an opportunity to evaluate how Mag-Wind works for possible use in projects down the road. Ross Perot Jr. wants all our people to look at green forms of energy."

The founders of privately held Mag-Wind have been developing the patent-pending vertical-axis turbine since 1991.

Each Mag-Wind can generate 900 to 2,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month, depending on the amount of wind.

That's enough to power the average household, according to Bob Thompson, CEO of Mag-Wind.

Production of the units begins in March. Mag-Wind will sell the units exclusively through volume homebuilders, renewable energy-based distributors and utility power companies, which also will handle installation and connectivity to local power grids.

Good timing

The company's timing couldn't be better, according to Ray Tonjes, chairman of the green-building subcommittee for the National Association of Homebuilders and past president of the Texas Association of Homebuilders.

"It takes a long time for our industry to mature to new concepts and new building materials," Tonjes said. "But (green building) participation is just growing exponentially, thanks to $60-a-barrel oil."

This year, the influential NAHB introduced national green building guidelines, and now many of its state and local homebuilder associations across the country are following suit. In Texas, the Dallas Homebuilders Association is a few months away from launching its green building program, Tonjes said.

The Mag-Wind unit, made of aluminum, fiberglass and steel, measures 4-feet square and weighs 250 pounds. It retails for $6,599. The installed cost is $10,000 to $15,000, Thompson said. Mag-Wind says homeowners will earn back their investment in five to seven years.

Designed to last an estimated 20 years, Mag-Wind features no gears to wear or freeze. Its platform of aluminum sails, or wings, float on magnets. The platform base rotates around a stabilizing, vertically fixed shaft through its center. A circle of magnets on the inside of the base pass by a circle of coils to create electricity.

The small-scale, wind generation unit may be a first in North America, according to Cory Lowe, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit energy consultant in Boulder, Colo. that advised Texas Instruments Inc. on the green aspects of its new $3 billion chip manufacturing plant in Richardson.

"This is the first one I've heard of," said Lowe, noting RMI has advocated for large-scale wind generation for years. At the individual customer level, solar has been the standard, so Mag-Wind appears unique.

"This is kind of new territory," Lowe said. "If it does all they claim it will do, the potential could be there.

Generating electricity on a smaller scale can be profitable for both the energy producer and the customer."

Canadian connection

Mag-Wind was invented by Canadians Jim Rowan and Tom Priest Brown, who along with Thompson each own about 11% of Mag-Wind. Toronto-based NCRC Energy Solutions Inc., an engineering and management company, is majority shareholder and silent investor, with 51%. The remaining 16% is split among a handful of investors. Rowan said Texas is the perfect place to launch Mag-Wind.

"In Texas, you present an idea and they just roll up their sleeves and get to work," he said. "That's why we're here and not in Ontario."

Richardson-based Vector Systems Inc., which owns about 5% of Mag-Wind, will build the units, some 4,000 in 2006, said Ken Smith, vice president of business development for privately held Vector. Thompson said 1,700 units have been contracted by a Canadian distributor, while homebuilders he declined to identify have spoken for the remainder.

The 19-year-old Vector makes custom fluid-processing systems for many different industries, from petrochemical and refining to water treatment and power generation.

Partly because of Mag-Wind, Vector will invest nearly $3 million to build a new, larger manufacturing plant. Currently operating from a 15,000-square-foot space in Richardson's Telecom Corridor, Vector will move to a Collin County city, which it declined to disclose until the land deal is finalized. The new 48,000-square-foot plant is expected to be up and running by July 1, 2006.

Mag-Wind is driving some of the need for more plant space. Smith said the Mag-Wind venture in 2006 will likely add $1.5 million to $2 million to Vector's revenue. Vector's existing business will add an additional $1 million, and another new opportunity in the baking industry will add $1.5 million to $2 million.

Smith estimates Vector will record slightly more than $4 million in revenue for 2005, and probably twice that in 2006. Vector employs 18 people, including engineers, skilled technicians and welders, and will hire that many more in 2006, he said.

A long-time Austin homebuilder, Tonjes has advocated for and constructed green buildings since the early 1980s. He indicated he was thrilled to be brought on board as an adviser to Mag-Wind. Tonjes also has a small equity position in the company.

"I hate to use the word revolutionary, but really (Mag-Wind) is," Tonjes said. "It promises to be a very cost-effective alternative to solar, and actually in some applications the two probably would be used together."

Margaret Allen
Turbine Company Harnesses Wind Power
Dallas Business Journal, December 23, 2005

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