Inside the wind industry
Lancaster native Tony Schoen began working as a financial controller in the nascent wind industry in 1988 and rode the boom-and-bust roller coaster until he retired from that business in 2004. For 16 years he worked in a small building on the hillside south of Hwy. 58 in the middle of the wind turbines.
Schoen first worked with James G.P. Dehlson, known as "the father of the wind industry." In the mid-1980s, Dehlson wanted to do something for the environment, Schoen said. He and his partners Bob Gates, Al Davies and Dan Reynolds bought the windswept hill east of Tehachapi and built turbines as tax shelters. (They still own the hill). Their company, Zond, almost went bankrupt with the expiration of the Production Tax Credit. The company's initial public offering and its gear boxes both failed.
Giant Enron came along with $150 million and high hopes for profit under the deregulation of electricity, similar to the deregulation of the telephone industry (it didn't work).
Enron bought Zond in 2000, propelling the industry from a small operation to big business. Enron went belly up in a swirl of corruption, and Schoen observed the empire crumble.
"As a finance guy I could see it coming," Schoen said. "It was a matter of credibility." More to the point, "They were all crooks."
One time, as Enron started to implode, Schoen said, he was in a meeting at the 50-story Enron building at 1400 Smith Street in Houston, a lavish structure that was complete with seven restaurants, a gym and other amenities. The meeting participants called out for Chinese food. The restaurant refused to charge the meal to Enron. Schoen ponied up his own credit card to pay for the meal. He did get reimbursed.
GE bought the bloodied Enron. While the large GE plant is closed, GE builds turbines locally and hires locally under the management of John Hornbeck.