A Sunset Park recycling facility is putting the finishing touches on Brooklyn’s first major windmill since the 19th century, and the city’s largest ever.
Sims Metal Management is reviving the halcyon Dutch days with the massive propeller at its state-of-the-art Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility on Second Avenue at 30th Street. Kings County has its share of helix-shaped wind turbines — on the roof of Whole Foods, Downtown’s 388 Bridge St. luxury high-rise, and the Navy Yard, for instance — but they are pinwheels in comparison to the new, 160-foot tall contraption.
The last big windmills in the borough were those at the old Vanderveer Farm in modern-day East Flatbush, and at Hezekiah Beers Pierrepont’s gin distillery at the foot of Joralemon Street, though it is not clear exactly when in the 1800s those went out of use (we blame the English Crown for crushing the enterprising Dutch spirit under its buckled shoe). But the manager of the recycling plant puts the precedent even further back in time.
“It is the first commercial-scale wind turbine in the city, to my knowledge, since it was Dutch New Amsterdam,” Tom Outerbridge said.
The $750,000 windmill puts out up to 100 kilowatts, meeting 3–4 percent of the facility’s energy needs, and will pay for itself in five years, a Sims spokeswoman said. Combined, the facility’s sprawling, 600-kilowatt solar-power plant and the windmill will generate one-fifth of the juice that the plant needs to operate, she said.
Like plastic and glass, recycling and green energy are two things that don’t need to be separated, Outerbridge said.
“We look at that as the fundamental nature of our business and consider ourselves to be part of the sustainable economy,” Outerbridge said. “Plus, it tends to be very windy on this part of the Brooklyn waterfront.”
The windmill’s inspiration is pure Breukelen, but the execution is all-American. The Vermont wind-farming company Northern Power designed and built the whirligig, and fellow Green Mountain staters at Aegis Renewable Energy had the privilege of erecting it beside Gowanus Bay, according to Sims.
The 11-acre, $110-million recycling center took a decade to build and opened a year ago with the capacity to handle the entire city’s recycling load and then some. The project won an NYC Excellence in Design Award in 2010.
The windmill will be fully operational by January, Outerbridge said, but the company did face headwinds when seeking the city’s blessing.
“The permitting process was a challenge,” Outerbridge said. “It was a somewhat convoluted and lengthy. This was precedent-setting, and there was no clear step-by-step process to follow.”
Outerbridge couldn’t confirm whether Sims has any other green energy projects in the works, but the company will see which way the wind takes it.
“The recycling business tends to be land-intensive, and it can consume a fair amount of power, so we’re always looking for new energy opportunities.”