OMRF unveils rooftop wind farm

With the flick of a switch Tuesday morning, OMRF began drawing energy out of the sky.

In a ceremony atop the foundation’s new research tower, OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D., and Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Taylor released the brakes on 18 new vertical wind turbines. Those turbines will provide a portion of the electricity used in the tower, making it the first medical research facility in North America to harness the wind to generate its own power.

“With equipment like high-powered microscopes, DNA sequencers and freezers that maintain temperatures of 80 degrees below zero to preserve biological samples, medical research facilities are typically energy hogs,” said Prescott. “This wind farm will help diminish OMRF’s external power needs and lessen our carbon footprint. It will also make us unique among our peers.”

The turbines, each 18 ½ feet tall, stand in three parallel rows and are mounted in a specially designed hood that crowns the roof of OMRF’s 130-foot-tall research tower. Their purchase and installation was made possible through a gift from the McAlester-based Puterbaugh Foundation.

“The Puterbaugh Foundation has supported OMRF for more than a half-century,” said Chief Justice Taylor, Chairman of The Puterbaugh Foundation. “This wind farm is one more example of how OMRF is breaking new ground, and we are proud to be a partner in this effort.”

The helical turbines, reminiscent of the shape of DNA that OMRF scientists study, will create an estimated 85,500 kilowatt hours of energy annually—enough to power seven average-sized homes for a year.

“That’s not enough for the whole tower to run on wind energy alone, but it’s an investment in the future,” Prescott said. “By making some of our own energy and using new technology to make the rest of the building energy efficient, we’re cutting our carbon emissions by about 2 million pounds annually and saving the equivalent of 44,000 gallons of gasoline each year.”

Mounted and installed by Dallas-based SWG Energy Inc., the Venger Wind Model 2 turbines are constructed of aluminum and steel, making them heavy-duty enough to withstand the Oklahoma elements but light enough to harness the maximum amount of wind power. The energy they create is fed directly into the tower’s grid in a system that uses wind-generated power when available but seamlessly switches to OG+E power when necessary.

Other features of the tower, which was completed in 2011, include a state-of-the-art HVAC system with chilled beam technology to reduce the energy needed for heating and cooling, a rain garden made up of native Oklahoma plants to contain storm water discharge, and motion-activated lights. The entire building is also designed to capture as much natural sunlight as possible to reduce lighting needs and is expected to receive a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

“Every day, OMRF’s scientists work to sustain human life,” Prescott said. “The turbines and the tower’s other energy-saving technologies are our small way of helping to sustain the planet.”