Power Diet: Restaurant Feeds on Wind Energy

Yes, that's a wind turbine — that's right, wind turbine — presiding over a strip of shops and restaurants in suburban Schiller Park.

Rising some 80 feet high, its 62-ft.-long blades slicing the sky, the 108kw turbine not only supplies energy to the Great Escape, a casual-dining establishment on Irving Park Road, but provides power to the surrounding community.

Great Escape proprietor Brian Great expended considerable energy on his energy-saving enterprise, navigating the project through FAA, zoning and village hearings. He also spent $315,000 of his own money to construct the turbine, an investment that required him to mortgage his building.

True, the wind turbine qualifies him for a
30 percent federal rebate, and he only pays $200 per month for ComEd line charges, but Great didn't have money in mind when he undertook the two-year project. "It seemed as if nothing was getting done in Washington to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,"he recalls "I wanted to show what a single small business could do."

To do so, he enlisted the assistance of Elk Grove Village-based contractor Avondale Electric, which surveyed the restaurant and calculated its required electrical loads, says company Vice President David Del'Aringa. Avondale also assisted in the selection of turbine supplier Aeronautica Windpower, a Plymouth Mass.-based enterprise.

While Avondale designed and constructed the project's electrical components, including a new transformer, a 75kw back-up generator, and feeds to and from the turbine, it was up to Aeronautica to integrate the feeds with its equipment. In all, the team required six months to complete design work, according to Del'Aringa.

As built, the turbine provides more than 100 percent of the power required to support Great Escape's operations, including cooking equipment, refrigerators and air-conditioning. At night, when demand is lower, 20 to 30 households benefit from the surplus. Should wind speeds dip below seven to eight miles per hour, ComEd supplements the turbine.

"We're either feeding or using ComEd's grid all the time," says Great.

The turbine eliminates 274.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually – the equivalent of removing 50 vehicles from the road for the same period. It also saves 639 barrels of oil per year, says Great, who estimates it will take him 10 years to recoup his investment.

"It wasn't the best financial decision I ever made," he says. "I couldn't afford to do it, but couldn't afford not to."

At least one other Chicago-area enterprise shares the sentiment. Del'Aringa says Avondale was contacted by an Oak Park auto dealer once it learned about Great's project.

His great adventure may not mark a trend, but Great is glad it is sparking interest among other businesses. In fact, it may be the greatest payback of all.