Windmill rises over Brace Road

Morgan Wesson

Mark Thorn’s yellow-tailed Bergey windmill took its first turns on a blustery, gray day last week.

“I’m very pleased,” said Thorn, watching his new 120-foot power generator spin. “It’s been a while …. ”

For several years now, Thorn, an IT specialist with Constellation Brands and a member of the East Bloomfield Zoning Board of Appeals, has been trying to own a wind turbine. Now, he has one to power his family’s log home of 13 years on a windy ridge on the west side of Brace Road.

“I wish the town had come out to see this. It looks great,” said Thorn’s pleased neighbor James Webster. He watched the crew secure nine guy wires to the tower. Webster uses an ancient windmill himself on a smaller tower next door to Thorn to pump water into a pond. But he might just get out an old electric alternator he has and make some power instead to give Thorn’s fancy new turbine a run for its money.

Webster’s 1942-vintage windmill was made by Sears and Roebuck and sold to American farmers in times before power lines reached far into rural 20th century America.

After research, Thorn elected to take a 21st century net metering deal offered by NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. If he tied his home power system into the local power grid, Thorn could get a 50 percent state subsidy upfront for his new windmill. Thorn paid $28,000 of his own money. NYSERDA chipped in the same to Sustainable Energy Development of Ontario, Wayne County, and other contractors who worked on Thorn’s windmill system. SED will service the turbine for five years under the state sanctioned arrangement. Power companies find home windmills can reduce power transmission costs and, so far, are on board with home-based wind power.

Thorn has no battery storage and no photovoltaic cells in his system. That cuts the cost of a home power system. A controller and two-way power meter automatically compensate for wind conditions, seamlessly merging grid power with available wind power for Thorn’s conventional AC home electrical system and appliances.

Thorn’s white turbine blades are 23 feet wide tip to tip. It generates surprising power: Ten kilowatt hours in a steady wind. It does initially cost 10 times what a 10-kilowatt fossil-fueled generator can run.

Thorn hopes his windmill may be big enough with conservation measures to power and heat his home plus charge an electric car for his commutes to nearby Canandaigua. “It will set an example for the town (East Bloomfield). It will give them something to compare to,” said Thorn. “The objective of putting it up is to use every bit of power it generates. I expect it will break even in about 14 years.”

His daughter, 10-year-old Jamie Thorn, has discovered where this obsession came from. She recently dusted off her dad’s old Erector Set windmill and equipped it to generate power. “Me and Audra Beechler got together to do this for the science fair,” said Jamie. “It generates .4 something.” Jamie titled the girl’s exhibit with a question: “Are windmills Just Fancy Lawn Decorations?”

The Thorns have installed a home weather station on top of the family swing set to monitor wind conditions.

“The first year’s going to be one big research project,” said Mark’s wife, Diana Thorn. She recently arrived at work at Curves in Victor to discover “the new windmill…” on Brace Road was already a topic of local conversation.

An hour after Thorn’s new tower rose into the sky, a Rice Road neighbor, Brad Murray, saw it from his house across the valley and raced over for information. “I saw it! I’ve been researching them,“ said Murray.

Next door at Roger and Peg Ilardi’s home, a heating oil truck pulled up as the couple were watching Thorn’s tower rise.

“Pretty ironic: You putting this up today, and we’re having oil delivered,” said Peg Ilardi to Thorn.

“It’s $4 a gallon today,” said Roger Ilardi.

The Ilardis, James Webster, Graham Fennie and other neighbors got notified ahead of time of Thorn’s windmill plan and even helped secure permits.

“I wrote letters to the town of East Bloomfield and RG&E on a variance,” said James Webster. East Bloomfield will review new wind power statutes at its upcoming town board meeting on June 9.

Larry Pedersen is a friend of the Thorns and retired Gananda superintendent of schools. He liked the home wind system but observed, “The wind generator farms are a better concept. In semi-rural areas, people see it as an obstruction to the view they came to enjoy.”

That’s silly, said 70-year-old Webster, who loves watching windmills. “If I was 30 years younger, I would do it. I support him wholeheartedly. We have so much wind — all the time the breeze here. This is a gamble for this man. But under the circumstances, I think he’s going to win and come out ahead.”

In addition to his classic Sears windmill, Webster has a brightly painted miniature windmill twirling hard on the front lawn, also out where the Thorns and Ilardis can see it.

Contact Morgan Wesson at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 256, or at messenger@messengerpostmedia.com.