Walking up to DiMillo’s in Portland, Maine, the first thing you’ll notice is that the restaurant is inside a former ferry permanently anchored at the pier.
The next thing to turn your head is the three-story-high tubular spire near its entrance that looks like it might be a high tech antenna.
“Some people think it’s an art installation,” says restaurant manager Steve DiMillo.
It’s actually a cutting edge vertical axis wind turbine called the Windspire, but it’s not your average windmill. Six two-foot-long blades—arrayed from 17 to 34 feet high—are parallel to the ground, it produces almost no sound, and there’s no flicker caused by the propellers passing in front of the sun.
“Everybody loves it,” DiMillo says. “And we received a business leadership award from the Sierra Club of Maine for its installation, so it has been great publicity.”
DiMillo’s received the turbine last August for free in exchange for showcasing the new technology at its high traffic restaurant, which hosts 200,000 diners annually. The installers of this renewable energy source, Portland’s Nelson & Small, estimates that it will generate about 2,000 kilowatts annually, which is about half the electricity that the average household in Maine uses every year.
That’s not enough to completely power the eatery’s marina store located next door, but DiMillo says that it’s definitely saving the restaurant money on its utility bill—around $400 per year.
In Chicago at Uncommon Ground’s Edgewater location, co-owner Michael Cameron knows that his solar thermal system saves him around $5,000 annually.
“It paid for itself in energy savings in four years,” he says. The system was designed by Solar Service, Inc. and cost $28,000. However, since there was a 25 percent state rebate and a 25 percent tax credit, it ultimately only cost $14,000.
Depending on the time of year and the amount of cloud cover, the system generates varying amounts of hot water. “In the summer, it’s giving us 100 percent of our needs,” Cameron says. “We actually have to cool our water with city of Chicago water, or else ours would be too hot.”
The system consists of five four-by-ten foot panels, which are on the roof of the one story restaurant, right next to its organic garden.
In the beginning, aesthetics were a concern for local officials, so Cameron positioned the panels away from the edge of his roof.
Now that’s all changed. “People are always pointing up at them to show them off,” he says. “They’re a bragging point for politicians.”
The installation also helped Uncommon Ground earn the “Greenest Restaurant in the Country” award in December from the Green Restaurant Association.
These two restaurants are part of a growing number of establishments across the country embracing alternative energies. Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, has the distinction of being the first wind powered brewery in America, getting a portion of its energy needs from an 80-foot-tall wind turbine on its property. This saves the restaurant between $150 and $250 a month in energy costs.
Further up the coast in New York City, GustOrganics uses only wind energy and solar lighting throughout the restaurant.
Cameron has noticed an uptick in interest from his colleagues in the industry over the last few years.
“In the beginning, we would talk to other restaurant owners about our ideals and the philosophical reasons why we were doing it, and people would think we were crazy hippies,” he says.
“Now when I talk to them, I tell them that they should do this because it’s going to save them money.”
Because even if going green sounds like a stretch, who doesn’t like to save a little green?
By Nevin Martell