Laurel has largest turbine here


The winds of change are blowing though Laurel, and Half Hollow Nursery is ready to catch them with the largest windmill ever to stand on the North Fork.

Last month, Mattituck-based Eastern Energy Systems completed the installation of the 121-foot-tall, 100-kilowatt tower on the 1,200-acre tract in Riverhead Town. It's the largest wind turbine in the history of Long Island, standing 156 feet at the highest point of the rotor, and will produce energy for the nursery.

The windmill is not running just yet, but representatives from Eastern Energy and Lloyd Rasweiler, the 89-year-old owner of the wholesale nursery, announced the breakthrough project at a press conference at the Calverton Business Incubator Tuesday morning. Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, and executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island Gordian Raacke were among those attending.

After 60 years in the nursery business, Mr. Rasweiler said he hasn't always been interested in alternative energy but was "forced to go this route in order to keep up with the times."

"We have to make a change with the cost of other fuel," he said. "We'll use it for a year, then I'll let you know how good it is."

The tower cost Half Hollow Nursery $500,000, but the Long Island Power Authority will rebate approximately $127,000 of that as part of an alternative energy program. The turbine is expected to produce about 157,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, which will mean annual energy savings of about $30,000 for the business.

Mr. Rasweiler's nephew, Alan Rasweiler, who has been involved with the company for nearly 40 years, said that the "nursery industry has always been a green industry."

"We were introduced to alternative energy just within the last few years, and there's no doubt this is the way of the future," he said.

Eastern Energy Systems' director of business development Albert Harsch announced, as part of the unveiling ceremony Tuesday, the creation of a scholarship program. The energy firm is hosting an essay contest for Long Island high school students titled "Why I Want to Work in the Renewable Energy Industry." Stony Brook University, Molloy College in Rockville Centre and Farmingdale State College will award scholarships to the winners, to be announced in April.

"It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a community to raise a windmill," said Mr. Harsch. "We want kids to grow up on Long Island, educate themselves here, have a rewarding career here -- and stay here. That's our goal."

Mr. Walter, who said that Riverhead remains committed to renewable resources and renewable energy, was impressed with the windmill and particularly the scholarship program.

"This is absolutely fantastic," he said. "We always hear people complaining about our youth leaving Long Island. They complain about it, but they don't offer solutions for it. This project seems to be a solution."

Ed Thompson, vice president for advancement at Molloy College, said he was excited as an educator to be on the cutting edge of a fledgling industry.

"You're probably wondering what a small school in Rockville Centre is doing way out here in Calverton," he said. "We were founded in 1955 by Dominican Sisters, and they gave us a mission of transformation, not just within yourself, but in your community and the wider world. This is why we recently established a sustainability institute to integrate into the curriculum, to let young people find out how we can move forward with alternative energy. This is something they're not getting in high school or college yet."

In closing remarks, Mr. Rasweiler pointed out that even though wind might have been ignored for many years as a worthwhile energy source, it's not going away anytime soon now that it's back.

"With all this technology around us today, everything ends up back on the farm," he said. "I have three young people who work for me on the nursery, and I hope to see the business last for at least another 30 years. That's why I put up a windmill."