Breezeway: El Centro Wants to Put Wind Turbines on Top of Old Sangers Building

View Larger Map
Those Landmark Commission meeting agendas are full of interesting hints -- like, oh, that green house the State Fair of Texas wants to build in Fair Park. Or, now, this vague note concerning the installation of 21 wind turbines on the rooftop of 801 Main Street. We should have more about that proposed Fair Park palace later today, but Unfair Park did a little digging this morning and found out that El Centro College wants to put those turbines atop the old Sanger-Harris building as part of a green initiative that will also include installing solar panels on the rest of the non-historic buildings in the community college's downtown complex. Far as anyone can figure, this is the first instance of someone attempting to put turbines on top of a downtown building. Take that, Re:Vision Dallas.

El Centro needs to go through Landmark since the Sangers building resides within the West End Historic District; the proposal should breeze through Landmark if the turbines won't be visible from the street. We've left messages for David Browning, VP of business and administrative services at the school. Also should hear from Errol McKoy, State Fair president, about the green house, which should make for an interesting meeting on Wednesday -- because some on the Landmark Committee will likely wonder whether the Victorianesque design of the proposed glass structure fits in with the Art Deco decor of Fair Park.

Update at 10 a.m.: After the jump, Browning talks about El Centro's plan. Two words: "energy balls."

As I understand it, this is the first attempt to put wind turbines on top of a downtown Dallas building.

Yes and kinda no. We've been testing this since February. We've had a turbine up there since February to see if this will work. Dallas County as a whole doesn't generate the wind of, say, West Texas. But because of the downtown canyon effect and the location of El Centro at the base of the Bank of America building, we get more consistent wind than any place in Dallas County. It's been generating somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-75 percent capacity power since February.

Where did this idea come from?

Just kind of a crazy thought, I guess. I think that's the only thing you can attribute the idea of putting wind turbines in downtown Dallas. But I was visiting Chicago and saw they were thinking about it, and I did some research and found a company based out of Holland that has developed energy balls, as they're called, and it's specifically designed for downtown urban settings. It not only takes wind from north, south, east and west but also from downdrafts and updrafts from buildings. I talked to the company, and they gave us a relatively small windmill to put up there to see if it would work. And it worked out, because they just set up their manufacturing plant in McKinney.

It's quite an intriguing notion, to say the least ...

The only obstacle to this is the Landmark Commission. I plan on the 21 turbines generating between 30 and 40 percent of my electricity for the building based on the test results of the one wind turbine. My yearly electricity bill is $1 million, so we'r elooking at somewhere in $300,000 to $400,000 savings each year, and those are conservative projections.

As I understand it, this is only a small part of your overall green initiative?

The wind turbines are part of our overall plan. We're up for a $2 million grant from the State Energy Conservation Office, which would allow us to put solar panels on another building attached to the Sanger-Harris building and on the Bill J. Priest campus. And if you tie that into the fact we offer free DART passes to all our students, our carbon footprint will be of the smallest of any college in the country. And we really believe strongly in this -- which extends all the way to our renovating the old Paramount building in the West End. That's just as critical -- not building new buildings, but using old ones.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky