Alvin Duskin

Launching the Wind Industry

Recorded: June 26, 2014

Alvin Duskin speaks with Huey Johnson about the first wind energy project in California and the world.  How did it happen in 1978? What caused the tide to change? Watch Alvin tell this interesting story.

Intent upon leaving the world a better place, Stanford alumnus, Alvin Duskin has made his mark on the 1960s fashion world, the San Francisco skyline, nuclear and wind power and the future of Alcatraz Island. With an early and avid interest in civic and local issues, Alvin was concerned about the development and character of a small city like San Francisco. So he launched a ballot measure to limit the height of buildings to 72 feet. On another occasion, he exposed a proposal for a massive development on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.  Alvin purchased a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle so he could share the proposed development plan with San Franciscans’. Once the plan was exposed and scrutinized, it was roundly opposed and Alvin became a local hero.

Mr. Duskin continued to pursue new business concepts and in the late 1970s he had an idea to develop wind energy in some of the windiest parts of Northern California. Alvin worked for the Senate Energy Committee and there he learned a lot about energy. He drafted legislation to amend the windfall profits tax act of 1978 creating the first tax break for wind and solar energy. Following the passage of that bill, Mr. Duskin worked with Huey Johnson, then the California Secretary of Resources, to develop wind turbines at Pacheco and Altamont Passes.  Alvin was responsible for implementing new wind turbines that were the first windmills to be constructed anywhere in the world. Alvin Duskin uses his creative energies in his newest business venture, Corigin LLC, implementing a form of carbon sequestration, the business of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, with the use of “bio char.”

Huey Johnson:    Well I remember another occasion where we worked together in Sacramento when you discovered wind energy.

Alvin Duskin:    Oh yeah.

Huey Johnson:    Tell us about that.

Alvin Duskin:    You had a crucial role in that.  Yeah, when I was back working on the Senate Energy Committee, I got the idea for a piece of legislation, which essentially would have the federal government buy a whole bunch of windmills and put them at military installations around the country.  So I ran with that bill and the bill eventually passed and Jimmy Carter sent me a pen and Ronald Reagan put no money into it.  So then I tried to figure out another idea and I got an idea from a neighbor of mine in Mill Valley, Jim [unintelligible], that there should be a tax benefit.  And so I started writing a piece of legislation which became the amendments to the windfall profits tax act of 1978, which established an energy tax credit for solar and wind, and a–15 percent.  Well, in that year you got 10 percent tax credit if you bought a filing cabinet or a truck–just a business tax credit.  So with wind, you got 25 percent tax credit.  And then it was picked up in California. And California ran the identical legislation, so that was worth another 12-1/2 percent.  Like you invest a 100,000 dollars in one unit in a wind farm–ultimately Altamont. The way a person did it was they went to the bank and they put–borrowed–they said they want to buy this unit and they would put up 25,000 dollars and they would loan 75,000 dollars from the bank, which went to pay for this unit.  Well, that person put up 25,000 dollars; they got 37,500 back the day that they wrote that legislation. They made that commitment.   We had–I thought we had a good idea.  So then, I got these guys to come in with me on this–on this company U.S. Wind Power.  In 1978 Huey, nobody had ever seen two windmills side by side generating electricity anywhere in the world, so we needed to find someplace with a lot of wind.  Okay, so you were the head of the Resources Agency, so I phoned you up one day and I said, “Huey, I got this idea of building a wind farm in California and you’re the head of the Resources Agency so you have the Department of Water Resources (DWR) under your jurisdiction, and they are a major purchaser of electricity and they have some land.  So why don’t you give me some land and a contract with DWR.”  And you said, “Great, come out here.”  So you gave me 5,000 acres. This is a scandal, which is not fully appreciated, but you said, “Okay, I’ll give you 5,000 acres of land in the Pacheco Pass and I’ll give you a contract for 100 megawatts of wind energy.”  Nobody had ever given a contract for wind energy more than 2 megawatts.  So you, under your own authority –

Huey Johnson:    That’s right, it was my own authority.

Alvin Duskin:    Wrote a contract for a 100 megawatts of land in there, and then we raised some money because we have this contract and we had the customer.  We had the land and we had the customer.  And Oregon State had sent a group of meteorologists down there and they had measured the land in Pacheco, the wind in Pacheco.  So okay– so then we–so then the American Wind Association got all excited about this and cancelled their plans to have their annual meeting in Massachusetts. They had it at the Sheraton Palace in San Francisco.  And you got up at that meeting in San Francisco, and you said, “Yes, we are giving U.S. Wind Power 5,000 acres of land and a contract for 100 megawatts of power at .5 cents a kilowatt/hr.”  And then Tom Hayden got up and said, “Everybody in the legislature is enthusiastic about this.”  Tom had formed something called Solar Cal, and he said “This is just what we want to do.”  So a lot of people in the wind industry got very excited at that point.  We ultimately found, with our own meteorologists, that the wind in Pacheco had been overstated by 40 percent and at Altamont was actually stronger.  So then I went to PG&E and I said, “I’ve got this contract in Pacheco, but I’d rather do it in Altamont, so I need a contract with you.”  And PG&E was trying to get Diablo licensed–the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant licensed–and they were very into being nice to us, and they ultimately gave us a contract for 100 megawatts at .9 cents and that was the start of the wind industry in the world.  That was the first in the world, and that’s why when you called me up and you said you wanted me to come in here and talk to you, I said, “Huey, anything you ever want me to do, I’m going to do,” because I owe you one.

Huey Johnson:    It was a wonderful memory.

Alvin Duskin:    Yeah.