By: Morgan Jenkins

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.—Who knew that five simple windmills propped up on the breezy Atlantic City coast would end up saving surrounding residents money on their water bills?

Answer: anyone who took advantage of the public tours of the wind farm and wastewater treatment facility that the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) has to offer. This is just one of many neat discoveries that those who take the free tour will come across, along with where all of the flushed toys end up once a toddler learns how to use a toilet (about 100-200 pounds of junk screened per day!).

People tend to become instantly uninterested—or, disgusted—when the topic of sewage and wastewater “seep” into the conversation. And, perhaps it does smell rather unwelcoming when roaming the facility outdoors, not to mention how frigid the blistering winds that power the turbines can be on a mid-March afternoon.

Regardless, tours like these do wonders for spreading the word about implementing renewable energy. Communications manager and part-time tour guide Amy Menzel is able to break down not only the process and importance of wastewater treatment (i.e. decontaminating water from baths, toilets, sinks, etc.), but also the ins and outs of the wind turbines that the facility has on site.

Anyone who has come within five miles of the city knows exactly where the petite wind farm is located, considering the massive, 380-foot turbines are visible from quite a distance and are perched right beside Route 30 and the Atlantic City Expressway. Passers by may even assume that these turbines power the city somehow, saving residents of Atlantic County some money on electricity. If that were true, the energy created at this wind farm alone could power roughly 2,500 homes, according to the ACUA’s website.

A model displays the layout of the wind turbines – Photo by Morgan Jenkins

On the contrary, these turbines are actually an effective financial tool to lower costs of the facility’s use of electricity. Treating wastewater consumes an abundance of energy, taking about eight hours to complete before the water is in proper condition to be released into the ocean.

To cut down on energy costs, the facility began implementing multiple renewable energy resources, including the 2,700 solar panels scattered throughout the property. A couple thousand panels might seem capable of making a huge dent in any electric bill, but they only contribute a measly four percent of energy. The five wind turbines, on the other hand, pick up the solar slack.

In fact, the turbines save the ACUA about a half a million dollars per year. Since the facility began to put them to use just over ten years ago in Dec. 2005, the company has saved a whopping $5.2 million, according to the ACUA’s site.

While this doesn’t actually lower the rates of residential electricity, it does lower water bills. If the facility is able to save money on electricity by harnessing wind, solar and electric energy, the overall cost to treat city water decreases, according to Menzel.

Of course, there are always different drawbacks from one renewable resource to the next. For instance, the most apparent issue for any wind or solar farm is the lack of wind or sun.

Solar panels are becoming increasingly popular, but it takes so many of them to actually make a difference in the energy consumption of an enormous wastewater plant, and the cost totaling $3.25 million is a hefty one. Even though the ACUA has nearly made back what it invested, such a price tag would deter anyone at first glance.

Without federal funding and regulation, both solar and wind energy can only do so much. The wind turbines, for example, are incapable of storing any leftover energy, so whatever they gather must be used up in order for it to be effective.

Understanding the intricacy of wastewater treatment and renewable energy is easier for anyone with the right guide, and at the completion of the tour, 4H Leader and Rutgers Environmental Stewardship (RES) Program participant Courtney Dilks made a fair point.

“You never realize how much you need this stuff until you don’t have it,” Dilks said. Indeed, it seems to be human nature to take everyday routines for granted, but should the wastewater plant ever have to shut down suddenly, things could get messy.

The same can be said about nonrenewable energy. Once it runs out, how will humans continue life as they know it?

Nonetheless, companies that work as hard as the ACUA does to incorporate renewable energy are able to prove to the public that it can certainly be done; it just takes a little bit of investing.

“All of the projects that we undertake have to make sense financially for us to be able to do it,” Menzel said. “But if we can do it, then everybody should be able to do it.”

With any luck, other facilities will take note and recognize the amount of savings that come after the initial installation—in case, of course, transitioning to clean, renewable energy wasn’t a good enough reason.