F E A T U R E S
Could Atlantic City's new Wind Farm be the resort's next tourist attraction?
by Molly Golubcow
The Chinese ingeniously used them to pump water 4,000 years ago, Don Quixote foolishly tilted at them, and Van Gogh meticulously painted them. What are these machines that have captivated the hearts of artists and the minds of engineers for centuries? The answer, my friends, is currently blowing in the wind right off the Atlantic City coast. New Jersey's first utility-scale wind farm, located on the Atlantic County Utility Authority's (ACUA) wastewater treatment facility, went live on Dec. 12, 2005.
The wind farm, consisting of five steel turbine towers, is visually quite dramatic. Like monuments with movable parts, these giants offer some interesting statistics, (see figure on opposite page).
If these statistics are not impressive enough, the wind farm is a "powerhouse" for alternative energy. Rather than burn fossil fuels, the wind farm will produce enough energy to power approximately 3,800 homes — replacing the need for an estimated 24,000 barrels of oil per year. Translating that into electricity means the 8 megawatt (MW) wind plant will generate an estimated 40,800,000 kilowatt hours of clean electricity annually for New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
In addition to the ecological pluses, the wind farm is also being eyed as a potential tourist attraction for Atlantic City. Clearly visible from the Atlantic City Expressway and the White Horse Pike, the towers will be seen by the 35 million visitors a year flocking to Atlantic City's casinos and beaches. According to Paul Gallagher, vice president of the ACUA, the Atlantic City wind farm may become "One of the most photographed and discussed wind turbines in the country, maybe the world."
Gallagher feels that the proximity of the wind farm to major roads and businesses will impress and educate the public's perception of alternative energy. Based on how many visitors a year currently visit the ACUA environmental park in Egg Harbor Township, the ACUA anticipates even "bigger" interest in the wind farm.
To educate the public, the ACUA hopes to establish a user-friendly control room at the wind farm offering a number of video displays for visitors. In addition, an observation area at the front gate, a scenic overlook, and informational kiosks are also part of future tourist attraction plans. Authority officials are also hoping a pedestrian boardwalk that will run behind the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa will offer a beautiful view of the wind farm.
Although some may argue that a wind farm is not a tourist magnet, current studies show the contrary. For example, California's Palm Springs wind farm offers daily tours marketing their excursion as the "Ultimate Power Trip" to almost 12,000 curious tourists every year. Denmark, the leading country in the world using and exporting wind energy, experienced a 25-percent increase in tourism in or around their wind power farms.
Research also indicates that popular vacation locales around the world with wind farms have not experienced a loss in tourism. Instead, people who came to vacation were curious and eager to spend money visiting the wind-power sites, buying T-shirts and other souvenirs, as well as being photographed with the giants. On a local note, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson touted that the wind farm is "Renewable, it's clean, it's the future … And if they don't work, they're a helluva tourist attraction."
Atlantic City, differing from other sites around the country, has been quick to embrace the wind farm idea. Although many people are philosophically in favor of alternative and clean energy, the "not in my backyard" mentality became a problem in some areas. However, most AC residents and local politicians were quite excited about the wind farm project.
Anthony Cox, president of the Venice Park Civic Association, described the view from his neighborhood as "pretty cool." Local real estate agents are also impressed by a recent study that concluded that property values of homes with views of wind turbines rose faster than those of nearby homes without such views. Can you imagine the new Borgata and Harrah's marketing brochures? Rooms With Views of The Wind Farm Will Blow You Away! It's a BREEZE at the Borgata, etc. etc.
So, it seems like the Atlantic City wind farm is a win(d) win(d) situation — cleaner, efficient energy and a definite draw for tourists. Who in Atlantic City can ask for more? In 1911, the Million Dollar Pier offered tourists the opportunity to take a spin on a carousel, 1978 produced the whirl of the roulette wheel, and 2005 was the year a fair and profitable wind began to blow for the environment and the Atlantic City economy.
For more information, visit these Atlantic County Utility Authority sites: http://www.acua.com/alternative/a_projects_dsply.cfm?id=214. Or the link to the ACUA Web cam page where you can watch the turbines: http://www.acua.com/alternative/a_projects_dsply.cfm?id=275
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