Q&A: Wind energy pioneer George Hardie

We sat down with Hardie to find out how he went from hitting green balls to working with green energy.

On the outside, GEORGE HARDIE seems like your average neighborhood dad. Dig deeper, and you’ll find that he has lost tennis matches to John McEnroe and was a wind energy pioneer. We sat down with Hardie to find out how he went from hitting green balls to working with green energy.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO GREEN ENERGY?
I started my first wind company back in 1991. I thought wind had a big future and environmental issues were going to become more important and that technology would continue to improve. So, I got lucky, I found some angel investors who kept me alive for three or four years while we got the company going. Then it snowballed, and we made a business out of it.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES OF WIND TECHNOLOGY?
Obviously, the wind is free. There’s no fuel cost involved. And wind is becoming more cost-effective. Obviously, it’s a pollution-free energy source. The environmental costs are not zero, you have avian issues, some people don’t like looking at wind turbines, but in general it’s agreed that wind energy environmental costs are very low compared to the benefits of zero greenhouse gas, or CO2 or nitrogen emissions. From an economic standpoint, if utilities enter into a long-term power contract to buy wind energy, they don’t have to worry about the price going up and down because there’s no fuel cost involved in wind like there is for a gas plant, or coal plant, or oil plant.

WHAT GOES INTO BUILDING A WIND PROJECT?
Well, I’m not a scientist or an engineer; I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none developer. I go out and find the land, and I negotiate an agreement with the landowner. Then I try and go out and find a party who wants to buy the power, and basically it’s a lot like being a real estate developer.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE PROJECT?
I’ve built some projects in England and Wales up on some beautiful vistas, on ridgelines up there with gorgeous little towns. They’re not very huge projects as far as in the scope of what they’re building in the United States, but a lot of fun to do. My old company, we built the first commercial wind project in Central America in Costa Rica. It was a 24-megawatt project out in the Guanacaste province near the Arenal volcano, and it’s just a gorgeous part of Costa Rica. That project was called Tierres Morenes. That was a lot of fun to build.

HOW FAST IS WIND TECHNOLOGY GROWING?
It’s become a very big business. In the power business, wind — by any measure — is the fastest-growing power source. In Texas and in the upper Midwest, like the Dakotas, theoretically you could build enough wind farms up there to power the United States many times over.

YOU’VE ALSO PLAYED PROFESSIONAL TENNIS. HOW DID YOU GET INTO THAT?
I grew up in Southern California and, I don’t know what happened, I just fell in love with tennis when I was a kid and just played tennis through the juniors and was a pretty good junior. I went to SMU for four years where I was a four-year All-American. After I graduated, I played professionally for six years, got to be 27 or 28, and I wasn’t going to be the next Jimmy Connors. Although I had a lot of fun and had some good wins, it was just time to move on. I basically got kicked off the tennis circuit because I got too old and too lousy.

DID YOU PLAY AGAINST ANY BIG NAMES?
I lost to everybody. I lost to McEnroe a couple times, I lost to Connors two or three times, I lost to Borg. I beat Illie Natasi, Vitas Gerulaitis; I beat Yannick Noah. I’ve beaten four or five guys ranked in the top 10 in the world bracket, but I couldn’t beat anyone who was ranked around where I was, which was typically around 100.


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