A New Model for Wind Power

From the ruins of an EF5 tornado grew a nationwide network of reliable small wind turbine dealers and service providers.
By Edie Ross
June/July 2011
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BTI Wind Energy and the Harvest the Wind Network sell wind turbines at farm implement dealerships.

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Brothers Mike and Kelly Estes know well what wind power can do. In May 2007, they witnessed its destructive side when a 2-mile-wide tornado nearly wiped Greensburg, Kan., off the map. BTI Greensburg, the local John Deere dealership owned by the Estes family, was reduced to a pile of green and yellow rubble, sustaining $23 million in damage.

Jump ahead four years, and the resourceful brothers are reaping the benefits of the positive side of wind. After the tornado, BTI was one of the first businesses in Greensburg to commit to rebuilding. Out of that commitment grew a new venture for the family business: BTI Wind Energy, a distribution and service company for small-scale wind power systems, such as those that power homes or small businesses.

Harvesting the Wind

Inspired by Greensburg residents’ commitment to rebuild the community with sustainable methods, BTI general manager Mike Estes decided to use wind to power both the construction and the operation of his new John Deere farm equipment dealership. During that process, he and Kelly learned of two problems plaguing the small-scale wind industry. First, it was marred with turbine manufacturers that had gone out of business, leaving customers with no one to handle maintenance and repairs. Also, there seemed to be a shortage of well-educated sales and service staff to effectively market the products and address mechanical problems.

In response, BTI Wind Energy pledged to sell inventory only from companies with proven track records. Next, Mike and Kelly set up the “Harvest the Wind Network” to address the need for knowledgeable sales and service staffs. To ensure sales, service and repair work is done correctly, all network wind specialists and service technicians must undergo specialized training.

The network now includes 29 John Deere dealerships that operate in 250 locations throughout the United States and Canada. The Estes brothers chose to develop their small-wind network alongside a selection of John Deere dealerships for two reasons: Running a small-wind business requires skills similar to those already available at farm implement businesses, and they wanted to handpick Harvest the Wind Network members from a pool of friends in whose knowledge and abilities they had complete confidence. The brothers are quick to clarify, though, that the two entities are not affiliated.

“They knew about it and blessed it and wanted us to go forward with it, but they don’t participate in it,” Mike says. John Deere does, however, offer financing to BTI Wind Energy customers.

An Encouraging Success

Despite an economic recession, BTI Wind Energy has performed well. There is demand from farmers and other large-energy users who see an opportunity to create their own power, and Mike says the Harvest the Wind Network concept has been a success. Dealerships within the network have seen a boost in their wind turbine sales and have increased their service staffs. Mike estimates that more than 200 jobs have been created through the network.

Check out the Harvest the Wind Network website to find a dealer near you.

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