Reaping the wind in Phoenix

Couple's plans for 'green' home include 120-foot windmill

June 24, 2008|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

A dirt path lined with swaying wheat leads to a wooden barn. In the distance, rolling hills give way to dense woods. The farm is peaceful and rustic - the kind of place, in another time or country, where you might expect to find a windmill.

And if one northern Baltimore County couple gets their way, a windmill will indeed rise above their Phoenix farm.

Barry and Urszula Antonelli have petitioned the county for permission to erect a windmill as part of their plan to build a "green" home that draws energy from renewable sources. If the request is approved, it will be the county's first large energy-producing windmill, zoning officials said.

"We want to build the best house we can build," said Barry Antonelli, the former owner of Be Dry Waterproofing. "The drive behind it was to decrease our carbon footprint, as well as saving money for our own pocketbook."

The couple's plans reflect the growing interest in wind energy, and the absence of local rules specifically governing windmills, which are regulated as "accessory structures" in Baltimore County.

At 120 feet tall, or about 12 stories, the windmill would rise well above the 15-foot height limit for such accessory structures in the county, said Deputy Zoning Commissioner Tom Bostwick. At a zoning hearing last week, some neighbors voiced concern that the windmill would mar the landscape or make a bothersome buzz, according to Bostwick.

Bostwick said that he expects to issue a ruling on the proposed windmill within the next month.

The Antonellis said that their two college-age daughters spurred their interest in building an ecologically friendly house.

"When we were little, we used to get on them about saving the planet," said Laura Antonelli, 19, a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The Antonellis intend to build a "hybrid house" that draws energy from a variety of sources. A row of solar panels behind the house would capture the sun's energy. A geothermal system would cycle water through a loop of tubes deep in the earth to warm the home in winter and cool it in summer.

And a driveway made of absorbent materials would prevent the fast-moving runoff caused when rain hits impermeable surfaces.

Of all the home's unusual features, the planned windmill is generating the most attention.

Responding to neighbors' concerns, an electrician for the project testified at the hearing that the $65,000 windmill would generate a minimal amount of noise and that its location on the Antonellis' 97-acre property would not be intrusive to passers-by.

At its proposed height, the windmill would rise above unstable ground winds and produce electricity at its full capability, said Tim Fluharty of Fluharty's Electric on the Eastern Shore. His company has built windmills on the Eastern Shore in the past year, he said.

Most Maryland counties do not have specific rules for windmills.

In neighboring Carroll County, officials recently changed its zoning ordinance to allow property owners to erect up to two 150-foot windmills.

Like Howard and Anne Arundel counties, Baltimore County treats a windmill as it does a shed or a garage. Baltimore County homeowners must obtain the county's permission before constructing an accessory structure taller than 15 feet, Bostwick said.

The Antonellis also plan to include barns for horses and cows, pasture, fields for crops, an orchard, a vineyard, a vegetable garden and forested areas on the property. They hope that using the solar panels, the geothermal system and the windmill will enable them to generate all of the electricity they need for their home.

"All my friends are really excited about [the plans for the home]," said the couple's other daughter, Gina Antonelli, 20, a junior at Loyola College. "We hope that this might spark others' interest in alternative energy sources."

As a light breeze blew one morning last week, the Antonellis met with Ed Wheeler, the owner of C.E. Wheeler custom and estate home builders, who is overseeing the project. The proposed spot for the windmill is now marked by a wooden post in a wheat field.

"Hopefully we'll set a new norm," said Laura Antonelli. "When people build houses, they'll look for a good place to put a windmill."

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