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Wilkinson: Wave Wind looking for gust of growth in 2010

By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com

Sun Prairie-based Wave Wind is bouncing back from a slow 2009.

With a downturn in the economy, the wind energy development, construction and maintenance firm laid off nearly three-quarters of its staff, dropping from 85 in 2008 to the mid-20s in 2009.

But with employee numbers now up to nearly 50, and the announcement that the company is joining with Hyundai Heavy Industries to build a six-turbine wind farm northwest of Madison farm this year, things are looking up.

Each one of the 1.65 megawatt turbines planned for the project will stand nearly 300 feet tall, with individual blades stretching 140 feet. They can cost nearly $3 million each. Most are built in Denmark, Spain, China and Korea, though some are made in the U.S.

Wave Wind officials said they may also partner with Korea-based Hyundai – an industrial giant with annual sales of $15 billion – on as many as 15 other wind-energy projects.

“Last year was slow,” acknowledged Jeff Wilkinson, vice president of three-year-old Wave Wind. He joined the firm in 2008, coming from a natural gas energy background.

“We hope 2010 will be a mirror image of 2008,” he said. “Our business was down last year, but compared to the industry, we were above the average.”

Wave Wind is now in the midst of building a $55 million, 11-turbine development in Nicaragua that could provide an estimated 10 percent of the Central American country’s power requirements. Wave Wind has also done turbine maintenance projects in Costa Rica and at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba.

"We are a small company with a big appetite that is helping change the industry mindset,” he said.

Wilkinson said he believes the wind-turbine siting law signed by Gov. Jim Doyle on Sept. 30 will make it easier to build wind farms in Wisconsin and be a boost for the industry and green energy.

In addition, he said state climate change legislation working its way through the Legislature would also lead to greater use of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power.

“But the utilities will need to get on board with renewable applications as part of their infrastructure and support to provide customers with those options,” he said.

Ironically, Wilkinson said the wind resource in the Badger State can only be described as “low to moderate.

“Wisconsin’s wind energy isn’t that good compared to states that have extraordinary wind, such as North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming,” he said.

In addition to those states, the company has also worked on projects in Oregon, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Minnesota and on Wisconsin’s Blue Sky Green Field wind farm in northeast Fond du Lac County.

He said Wave Wind is based in Sun Prairie because founder Tim Laughlin is a Wisconsin resident.

“Laughlin created Wave Wind with the vision of supporting the small- to medium-sized wind farms that some of the larger players did not have an interest in,” Wilkinson said.

Laughlin’s background is in large industrial cranes. He then moved to wind industry project management.

“We cover the gamut from erection and construction to transportation and logistics to trans-loading and storage, as well as maintenance activities,” Wilkinson said.

He said about half the company’s work is in “heavy corrective maintenance,” while the other half is in new construction.

He said the giant turbines do not require a great deal of maintenance, if it is done correctly and in a timely manner.

“It’s machinery health management,” he said. “The better job you do on the preventive and predictive side, the better return you will have on your investment.”

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