Amid 30 miles per hour gusts, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation officials flipped the switch Tuesday on a rooftop wind farm that will help supply power to the foundation's research tower.
At more than 18 feet tall, the helical-shaped wind turbines will provide more than 85,500 kilowatt hours of electricity per year to the energy-hungry research facility.
“We believe that we'll be the only research institute anywhere that generates a lot of its energy by wind power,” said Dr. Stephen Prescott, OMRF's president. “Research buildings are notorious energy hogs.”
Prescott said the 18 rooftop turbines play a dual role in symbolizing the foundation's efforts to sustain life through medical research and the building's efforts to be energy efficient. Along with the wind turbines, the research tower features a “living roof” of native Oklahoma prairie plants and grasses.
“Wind turbines are a symbol of what we do, but the important thing is the scientists that are inside our buildings carrying out our experiments,” Prescott said.
Part of the funding for the $1 million wind turbine project came from McAlester's The Puterbaugh Foundation. J.G. Puterbaugh, a coal magnate in Eastern Oklahoma for much of the 20th century, was the first president of OMRF.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Taylor, chairman of the Puterbaugh Foundation, said he thought J.G. Puterbaugh would enjoy seeing the foundation's coal money being used for renewable wind power.
“Mr. Puterbaugh would love it,” Taylor said. “He was a dreamer and a renaissance man. Today, knowing that his coal money was being used to finance wind turbines would make him smile.”
The wind did its part during the official unveiling of OMRF's turbines, but the project wasn't all smooth sailing. Prescott said the recession delayed it by about six months because several small-scale turbine manufacturers were in financial trouble. Meanwhile, the foundation needed to make sure the turbines wouldn't affect its research. It installed two test turbines to check stability and vibration.
“Among the eccentric things about a research building is we're extremely sensitive to vibration, so these research buildings cost more than say, an office building,” Prescott said. “Things you wouldn't pay attention to in a normal building could destroy an experiment. We couldn't have something on the roof that started vibrating.”
Dallas-based SWG Energy Inc. led the installation of the 4.5 kilowatt turbines. Joe Willix, SWG Energy president, said the community-scale wind project is perfectly suited for urban areas.