James Wassel is not a weather man, but he knows which way the wind blows.

The Zelienople resident is the owner of Appalachian Wind Systems, which builds and erects windmills.

Wassel, 46, is in the process of erecting a windmill on North Tower Road in Perry Township. The project was financed by a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection.

In addition to the windmill, the facility will eventually feature an office, warehouse and residence for Wassel. The windmill will be used as a teaching tool, offering hands-on training for people to learn the technology of wind turbines and solar panels.

In the past five years Wassel has erected more than 60 windmills, many of them in West Virginia. One of Wassel's windmills is located at the environmental education center at Camp Lutherlynn in Prospect.

A windmill for a residence is approximately 70-feet high while a commercial windmill is three to four times that height.

With few exceptions, Wassel said windmills are not as efficient here because of low wind velocity, which is generally 10 miles per hour. In Lancaster, where there are a number of large wind turbines, the velocity averages from 14 to 16 mph.

Western Pennsylvania is not a prime location for solar panels. Steve Cropper, meteorologist at WTAE channel 4 in Pittsburgh, says Lawrence and Mercer counties get on average about 59 full sunnny days per year.

"An analogy often used by weathermen is that it can be as overcast here as it is in Seattle. But Seattle gets 71 days of sunshine a year."

Even with the lack of sunshine, partial components such as solar hot water heaters are practical and can cut down on utility bills.

Originally from Wexford, Wassel lives in Zelienople with his wife, Gail, and daughter Kate, 14.

When Wassel found a company selling residential windmills to be installed on a roof, he decided to try it. He soon learned that idea wasn't practical when his wife gave him an hour to remove it from the house because of the noise.

Wassel didn't set out to get involved in the state-of-the-art alternate energy field. He had a successful car-rebuilding business. But when a truck carrying solar panels broke down, he was able to purchase the cargo cheap.

With his mechanical aptitude, it wasn't long until Wassel was building and erecting alternate energy sources line windmills, wind turbines and installing solar panels.

His web site wind contains a photo gallery, information about wind turbines, solar panels, LED's and many other products. It offers encouragement and help to do-it-yourselfers.

"As energy costs continue to go up and as sources for energy continue to dwindle, this technology will help people cut their utility bills," Wassel said.

"And it will be an asset as the systems require minimal maintenance once they are installed."

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