SED: Friends fight together for wind power

Jan 5, 2012

2011 was a choppy year for wind power in New York State.

It was marked by both high-profile failure, of an ambitious Great Lakes offshore wind project, and smaller-scale successes, like keeping a small wind farm in local hands. But overall, wind power in New York has been growing at a steady clip.

And while wind still accounts for about one percent of the state's energy mix, recent legislation in Albany has primed the pump for small-scale wind development across the state.

Kevin Schulte, CEO of Ontario, N.Y.-based Sustainable Energy Developments (SED), is eager to seize that opportunity.

"The status quo is changing,"says Schulte. "We've gotta move forward. We've gotta change. And that's not always easy."

Early days

Schulte and four college friends from James Madison University founded SED in 2002 - after a few years each in various corners of the wind industry.

At the time Schulte was just 23.

"In the early years it felt like a school project," he says.

SED first laid roots in Albany, mostly doing consulting work on the massive wind farms that pump electricity into the grid.

But with a move to the Rochester area about three years ago, the company decided to change gears. SED now focuses on small-scale wind projects designed to power, say, a single company or school.

SED's model strives to keep the benefits of wind power within the local community, Schulte says.

"When we moved into this facility, I think we really knew we had something that was going to grow," says Schulte. "[We knew we had] something that was really capable of impacting our society."

Passion for wind

Schulte says the foundation of SED is a deep-seated belief in green power.

The company now has 46 wind projects to its name, with turbines ranging from the ski slopes of Western Massachusetts to the campus of the University of Delaware.

But Schulte says there are plenty of challenges associated with the wind industry. 

There's uncertainty around federal energy policy. And Schulte also says one of wind power's biggest challenges is the loud opposition from what he calls a "vocal minority" of anti-wind activists. Last year SED added a solar division to help keep the business going. 

Schulte says SED is on track for a strong 2012. But he says more people still need to heed the call and embrace the shift to renewables.

"We can't any longer just say, 'Hey, West Virginia, send me a train load of coal,' " says Schulte. "That's different now. We can't do that anymore. It's screwing things up."

Friends and family

Despite the challenges of expanding wind's toehold, Schulte says running a business with friends and family keeps him coming back for more. "It's the best thing in the world," Schulte says.

What once had a dorm room vibe now employs 18.

One member of the SED team (aptly) described the company's office as a "beard and dog filled little enclave."

CEO Schulte says he's proud of the company he founded as a 23-year-old. (At 33, he now calls himself a "dinosaur" in the wind industry.) He says he can't imagine doing it any other way.

"Friday night, we go out and have a beer together," Schulte says of his co-owners and colleagues. "Monday morning, we go and try to change the way people think about where energy should come from."

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