The five windmills’ blades stood still at the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm as a dozen or so hard-hat wearing visitors walked out of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority’s headquarters in Atlantic City on a sunny Friday afternoon.
But as the ACUA’s Amy Menzel and Michelle Bellinger tried to explain that some days, the wind is too light to move the 120-foot-long, 6,000-pound blades — in spite of all the high-tech controls for the windmills that the tour guides had detailed back in the control building — one visitor looked up and noticed that one windmill was just starting to creep into motion.
It was so slow that it was barely visible — until, as the tour guides talked a few more minutes, the group on the ground suddenly spotted more motion. It was the shadows of that same windmill’s three blades, steadily picking up speed and sweeping across the ground and over the visitors’ heads as the turbine came to life for the afternoon.
The ACUA will welcome groups of visitors again at noon today — and at the same time every Monday and Friday through Aug. 30 — to come in for an up-close look at the windmills that so many of us see from miles away.
The authority also welcomes groups from schools and summer camps to tour the wind farm, just off Route 30 on the western edge of Atlantic City — in a bayside plant whose main function is to treat the sewage generated by 14 Atlantic County towns.
Menzel said the windmills, which became a revolving part of the Atlantic City skyline in 2006, increased the ecotourism appeal of the sewage plant.
“Before we had the wind farm, we didn’t need that gate out there” on the highway, Menzel said. And although she added that some people still drive up and ask to come in and check out the windmills, the authority encourages visitors to show up at those scheduled public times.
Jorge and Lisa Arroyo, who have homes in Lumberton and Brigantine, found out about the summer tours at the authority’s website, ACUA.com — which also carries extensive, live information about the windmills, including a graphic look at how much electricity they’re generating at any time.
Lisa Arroyo said she looked online because her two daughters, Olivia, 6, and Samantha, 4, are fascinated by the windmills they pass on every trip into or out of Brigantine.
“They always ask about them, a million questions about how they work, ” she said.
And on those long rides to the shore — the kind of rides known for putting kids to sleep — “Olivia always says, ‘Wake me up when we get to the abanicos,’” said Lisa, using the Spanish word for fans.
So the giant fans have become the family’s favorite shore-trip landmark, their sign that they’ve almost reached Brigantine and the beach. And young Olivia shyly pronounced her first visit to the windmills “really cool. I like how they spin around and around” — after the blades actually did start spinning around and around.
Inside the control building, Menzel had said it takes a breeze of at least 8 mph to get the blades moving, but the ideal range for generating electricity is 12 to 20 mph. When they are moving at that optimum rate, the five turbines can create enough energy to power 500 homes. The ACUA’S 2,700 solar panels on the site could power about 60 more homes, the tour guides added.
It’s hard to predict how many visitors will show up for any given tour — the guides say sometimes the crowd is just four people, other times it’s 30. But they know that days can be too nice for windmill and water-treatment tours, because their groups usually are smaller on beautiful beach days.
“It’s a good rainy-day activity,” Bellinger said.
Still, the Charydczak family, of Egg Harbor Township, showed up on that sunny, low-wind Friday — at least it was low-wind until later in the afternoon — and the oldest of Neal and Jennifer’s three children, Cole, 12, pronounced the experience “awesome.”
Neal, the dad, is an alternative-energy buff who had solar panels installed on the family’s home and drives a plug-in car.
“I just liked seeing the windmills up close,” he said. “I’d like to see the whole coastline with them.”
And after an hour or so of the tour, that early, slow motion of the windmills was just a lazy memory. The blades of all five whipped around in the sky like fan blades, and their shadows did the same.
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