Bergey said the number of turbines his company sells annually is “in the hundreds, not the thousands.” The company was founded by Mike and his father, Karl, an aeronautics engineer, in the late 1970s, after President Jimmy Carter responded to the era’s energy challenges with incentives for clean-power development. After those incentives disappeared under President Ronald Reagan in the ’80s and the price of oil plummeted, the company fought through some lean years by targeting international rural electrification and water supply projects.
Today, in addition to selling turbines to homes, farms and businesses, Bergey markets its turbines to the telecommunications industry, providing off-grid power for things like cellular base stations.
Small-wind technology has progressed since the company released its first product in 1980, Bergey said, but he admits there is room for improvement. Big wind turbines often operate at a capacity factor of 30 percent or higher; Baldwin’s turbine is likely to come in around half that figure. “We’re behind big wind,” Bergey said, with small-turbine technology having advanced just a couple of iterations from its early days while the more mature big-wind technology has pushed forward eight or nine times. A little more help on the R&D front — some of that government solar money, say — would be appreciated, he said.
“There’s around $250 million in DOE money going toward solar innovation,” Bergey said, citing programs like the SunShot Initiative, “and maybe $1 million on small wind, even though 80 percent of the small-wind turbines are made in America.”
Bergey said his company’s turbines are all manufactured in Norman, using products that come from around 200 suppliers in the United States – everything that goes into the turbine is domestic, he said, except the permanent magnet, which he said you basically can’t get anywhere but China.
Bergey offered no apologies for believing the small-wind industry deserves a little support from government. “We’re talking peanuts compared to what the fossil fuel industries get,” he said. Ticking off tax breaks like the oil and gas depletion allowance and intangible drilling costs, he said that Bergey Windpower pays double or triple the tax rate that oil and gas companies do. So while Alec Baldwin might get a tax break on his turbine, his turbine purchase will still kick some money back to the U.S. Treasury.