Friday, February 12, 2010

Power Engineers excels in alternative energy

Hailey-based firm employs 1,100 in U.S and overseas


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Power Engineers employee Sara Schroeder on a helipad in British Columbia. The helipad was used to ferry supplies for a power line that crossed a deep gorge in the Canadian Rockies. Photo by

Since Power Engineers came to Hailey in 1978, the company has become a well-known player in the field of alternative energy, working on projects as close to home as Hailey and as far away as Africa.

When the Hailey Planning Department began amending city ordinances in November to allow for small-scale wind and solar-powered energy systems in the city, Power Engineers representatives Steve Deal and Carl Strope provided the city with some free engineering advice at a City Council meeting. The two men also presented plans for a free-standing, 30-foot-tall wind turbine that the firm hopes to build this spring at Power Engineers' corporate headquarters on Glenbrook Drive in south Hailey.

The "windspire" turbine, expected to go into operation this spring, will showcase and test an increasingly popular form of alternative, renewable energy.

"Power Engineers has always been acting in, what we call today, alternative energy projects, such as wind, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal and biomass," says Power Engineers CEO Jack Hand. He also says the company has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.

In 1997 Power Engineers was a $28 million company with 230 employees. Today, it is a $200 million company with 1,100 employees across the country and overseas.

The company has 23 domestic offices and four international offices. Two hundred engineers and support staff work in the Hailey headquarters. Many of them travel overseas to design and construct power plants in Turkey, Africa and elsewhere.

Closer to home, Power Engineers' employees worked recently on the design of California's first utility-size "solar thermal" power plant, a promising new form of alternative energy.

Solar thermal facilities use large fields of mirrors to concentrate and capture the sun's heat in tubes filled with water. The water is converted to steam to power turbines that generate electricity. The process produces clean, reliable electricity and high-temperature steam for industrial applications.

Ausra Corp. hired Power Engineers in early 2008 to deliver a fast-track design for its commercial-demonstration, concentrated solar thermal facility near Bakersfield. The 10-acre, five-megawatt facility, big enough to power 3,500 homes in central California, was commissioned in October 2008.

Power Engineers produced designs for the solar collection system and power generation station at the facility, including layout and design of the water and steam piping system connected to an existing biomass power plant.

It was the first solar thermal plant completed in California in several decades.

The Environment News Service reported in October 2008 that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the new plant at the commissioning ceremony.

"Not only will this large-scale solar facility generate power to help us meet our renewable energy goals, it will also generate new jobs as California continues to pioneer the clean-tech industry," Schwarzenegger said.

Power Engineers has also supplied Ausra with conceptual plans and 3D designs for a 550-acre, 177-megawatt power plant. If completed, it will generate enough electricity to power more than 120,000 homes.

Despite the innovation at the heart of Power Engineers, the recession has taken a toll on business. Employee hours have been cut back in Hailey.

Ausra Corp. stock has also dropped in recent months due to a lack of financing.

But Jack Hand expects things to turn around soon.

"2007 and 2008 were the company's best years to date," Hand said. "2009 was also very good, but not across all divisions. With the exception of geothermal, many electrical generation projects were cancelled or delayed in 2009, including 'green energy' projects."

Hand said he expects the company to see improvement in 2010.

"I expect to see all divisions performing well by the third quarter," he said.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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