April 5, 2016
Walter Hornaday, the cofounder of the Dallas-based Breeze Energy, now makes a living selling wind power to customers across Texas but he got his start in the industry on the production side more than 20 years ago.
After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with an engineering degree, his first job out of school was at a coal-fired plant. That’s when he saw first hand what a polluting business it could be.
“I resolved right then there’s got to be a better way to make electricity.”
In 1991, he started a company dedicated to rebuilding and repairing small wind turbines for farmers and small businesses in rural Texas. Then in 1998, he established Cielo Wind Power to focus on large-scale wind power developments.
“I had gotten a reputation for making wind power work in Texas,” he said.
He also became known for his low impact wind farms.
“We saw what companies in California would do – go into the desert, scrape the surface clean and put up power lines,” he said. “It looked like an oil company coming in. It wasn’t done in a way that respected the environment.
He quickly learned that ranchers in Texas wouldn’t stand for the same treatment. So instead he developed an environmentally sensitive installation method that included burying transmission lines underground, using temporary pads to hold cranes that didn’t require ground excavation and painting the turbines with a reflective paint so that birds could see them at night.
“We developed a standard that other companies now go by,” he said. “We tiptoe in. It’s almost like a park when you’re done.”
Although Hornaday found success in the wind production business, he needed more buyers. Most retail electric providers are heavily invested in fossil fuel technology, like coal and natural gas, and nuclear energy and are reluctant to make the shift to wind for economic reasons, he said. That’s why he decided to form his own utility company.
So he teamed up with colleague John Spicer, a mechanical engineer with an MBA from Texas A &M, who had been in the energy industry since he graduated from college 30 years ago.
Hornaday knew that together they had a winning combination.
“Between John and I, we’ve got a lot of experience,” he said.
Today their Dallas-based company is the only electric provider in Texas that is solely focused on providing wind power to its customers. And due to their low overhead and the fact that they are not tied to investments in other energy sources, they can offer it at competitive pricing.
Hornaday admits, the future of the wind industry is bright, not just due to developers like himself, but because of a cultural shift.
“The reality is we wouldn't be doing this unless customers were saying they want clean electricity. They don't want energy from dirty sources.”
This article originally appeared in Natural Awakenings Magazine Dallas Metro Edition.