I was invited recently to tour the electric vehicle (EV) battery pack remanufacturing facilities of Oklahoma City’s Spiers New Technologies (SNT), a booming business that virtually created an industry niche.
Founder Dirk Spiers was incredibly accommodating. He provided me and my colleague from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST) an up-close look at the massive operation at SE 89th Street where Spiers remanufactures, repurposes or recycles as many as 2,000 EV batteries per month.
Dirk then patiently answered our questions about the business and why Oklahoma City works so well for a venture focused on electric vehicles when there are very few driven in Oklahoma. The short answer is that OKC is conveniently located geographically in the heart of the U.S., so shipping to and from SNT is less challenging than if it was located on either coast.
All of that is in the story I wrote for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. However, a few remarks from Dirk did not make the cut for the Chamber story, and I wanted to share them here because I think he’s an important alternative energy industry voice.
“We are the black sheep in Oklahoma. This is an oil and gas state. When people say ‘energy,’ they mean ‘oil and gas.’ And I think oil and gas was maybe good for Oklahoma for a while, but not anymore.”
Dirk speaks about alternative energy sources like solar, wind and vehicle electrification with an evangelistic fervor. Here are his comments in Q&A form.
Q. How do you describe your company’s reputation here in a state that has been dominated for decades by the oil and gas industry?
A: First of all, I think we are the black sheep in Oklahoma. This is an oil and gas state. When people say ‘energy,’ they mean ‘oil and gas.’ And I think oil and gas was maybe good for Oklahoma for a while, but not anymore.
The Devon tower — and I think it is a great building — is now more than 50 percent empty. That shows you how they (and Oklahoma City) misread the future. And now the Devon tower stands there as a symbol of Oklahoma City prosperity, but it is half empty. A relic of an industry in decline. In fact, I think the majority of office buildings here are empty.
The good thing is that you know eventually that everyone will drive an electric car. Those cards have been played. So, we are on the right side of history, it’s just a matter of navigating through a really difficult year because of COVID. Also, it will not all happen at once.
But look at oil and gas. It has been a particularly bad investment for investors lately. Big Oil is not so big anymore. Stranded assets are now becoming a real thing. Dividends are more difficult to sustain. What I find interesting is that the European oil companies are starting to pivot. In the U.S., they are still in denial.
Q: What can Oklahoma do to signal that it is ready for a future with electric vehicles and alternative energy sources like solar and wind?
A: First of all, you need to embrace electrification a lot more. Don’t come up every year with legislation for taxation that doesn’t make sense and is punitive. Do something that is fair and forward looking. But I can see some progress there. I am hopeful.
Solar and wind are important here in Oklahoma. but be more forward looking and don’t try to renegotiate an existing (wind) deal. Renegotiating an existing deal is never a good sign that you are trustworthy.
Solar is completely under-used in Oklahoma. I think it’s the fourth brightest state, and I don’t see many solar panels.
No. 2, allow Tesla to sell and service cars in the state. You can’t say with your right hand, come here, we’re the best state, and with the left hand say we don’t want you to sell your goods here. That’s hypocritical.
Q: Do you consider yourself an evangelist for alternative energy use?
I do believe and always believed in climate change. Climate change is real. It’s here and the effects are increasingly worrisome and easy to see. In the USA it became a political issue and people are still debating this. Only here. Climate change is here, so, deal with it and let’s not lose more time.
Not sure I am an evangelist. But read the newspapers, understand the trends. When you do you know that solar is going to become — if it not already is — the cheapest form of energy, that wind is going to become the cheapest form of energy. and that we are all eventually going to drive electric vehicles. It is not that difficult. Actually, it is good. Who wouldn’t benefit from cheaper and cleaner forms of energy? Who wouldn’t enjoy driving a much better car than what they drive now? We don’t watch black and white TV anymore either on big boxes.
In fact, when you buy the latest TV or smartphone, why would still choose antiquated technology when buying a car?