After the tornado: BTI builds wind dealership network
The following article is one in a series of case studies included in AWEA's recently published Small Wind Turbine Market Report Year End 2011.
Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes in ancient Egypt, a wind energy business arose from the devastation May 4, 2007, of an EF-5 tornado in Greensburg, Kans.
Brothers Kelly and Mike Estes, the owners of BTI, a Kansas-based John Deere dealership since 1944, decided that while most of Greensburg had been leveled, their 36 employees and their customers remained, so they would help rebuild the town and their business as a "green" community. Having no local power from May to November, the Estes family installed a 5-kW Endurance turbine to help provide local electricity for the rebuilding process.
Locals began stopping by to inquire about the turbine. At the same time, employees from federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), went to Greensburg to assess the opportunities for renewable energy and energy efficiency and to offer technical and financial assistance. BTI, in the spirit of Midwestern entrepreneurship, dug into the distributed generation products and legacy. A fourth-generation family member, Haley Estes, left the bright lights of New York City to return to Greensburg and travel around the world talking with turbine manufacturers, dealers and users of distributed wind systems. BTI began selling small turbines to its John Deere customers.
This small start led to BTI reaching out to John Deere dealerships in 45 states and three Canadian provinces, which resulted in the formation of 15 dealer groups with 200 storefront locations. They named the group Harvest the Wind Network. In classic John Deere dealership fashion, quality products and excellent customer service were the groups’ wind business foundations. Each hired a full-time, trained wind specialist to help customers with wind feasibility analysis and after-sales customer service. They have since expanded beyond their agricultural customers to all rural business applications. Additionally, they identified the need for larger and a greater variety of turbine sizes. They now offer four turbines, ranging from 50 kW to 1.65 MW, and have developed partnerships with wind turbine manufacturers Endurance, Northern Power Systems, Gamesa and Vestas.
One of BTI's operating principles is to work with local construction crews during installation. So while rebuilding the Greensburg dealership, BTI attained a LEED Platinum designation, and its 50-kW wind turbine has proven to be a significant contributor to the now net-zero facility (more details on BTI's building design are available in a DOE publication, Rebuilding It Better). The BTI-Greensburg John Deere dealership has become a model for other new Deere dealerships. So, as Shakespeare said in 1604, "all’s well that ends well,” a sentiment which certainly applies to BTI and Greensburg, Kans.
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