An offshore wind farm off the coast of North Carolina would reduce coastal home rentals and potentially harm tourism, but the impacts diminish as wind turbines are placed at a maximum distance from shore, a study by N.C. State University economists found.
The study found that the visibility of 500-foot tall turbines – which are as tall as 50-story office buildings – would render summer vacationing less appealing for many people who regularly rent homes along North Carolina’s coastline. The study was based on surveys of 484 people who recently rented coastal homes for one week in North Carolina in areas currently proposed for wind farm development.
Perhaps the most revealing discovery in the report is that those with the strongest objections to offshore wind farms also tended to express strong support for wind energy.
“Over 50 percent of those surveyed indicated that they would not return to the same beach for their next rental should a utility-scale wind farm be placed offshore,” the report states. “This is true despite wide-spread support for wind energy development among these same respondents.”
The report – “The Amenity Costs of Offshore Wind Farms: Evidence From a Choice Experiment” – was issued Monday. It showed that 54 percent of survey participants would not be willing to rent a home if the turbines were visible at all, regardless of their distance from the coast.
The issue is particularly resonant for North Carolina because the state is considered to have the best coastal and offshore wind resources along the East Coast.
But some question the methodology and conclusions of the report.
Willett Kempton, a professor at the University of Delaware’s department of earth, ocean and environment said his colleagues have conducted research in Delaware and found high levels of support for wind farms among coastal residents.
Kempton noted that the N.C. State report mentioned that less than 50 percent of those surveyed said they would drive a half-hour to see a wind farm, which he said suggests that some vacationers would be drawn to the spectacle of propellers spinning over the ocean would.
“There’s going to be boat tours, there’s going to be brochures at the ice cream shop,” Kempton said. “It’s going to be a new source of business and revenue and attraction.”
Kempton is also research director for the university’s Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration and teaches in the university’s wind energy program, which offers a certificate in wind power.
The N.C. State study, however, concluded that “wind farms are not likely to be a draw for daytrip tourism, given the distance to NC beaches from major population areas.”
Offshore wind farms can’t be built at this time in the mid-Atlantic Ocean until the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management concludes the years-long process of identifying suitable areas for offshore energy development. BOEM conducted its own studies showing that some coastal residents find turbines unattractive.
The 55-page paper issued Monday was authored by Laura Taylor and Sanja Lutzseyer of N.C. State’s Center for Environmental and Resource Economic Policy, and by Daniel Phaneuf of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin.
The study says that that turbine spires would be visible as far as 30 miles from the shore on a clear night when the towers are flashing red hazard lights.
The Sierra Club noted that the report acknowledged that “the negative effects of any size turbine array diminish rapidly once placed more than eight miles from shore.”
The current proposal from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would not allow wind farm development closer than 11.5 miles from North Carolina’s coastline east of Wilmington, and much farther back in more sensitive areas. For example, the 480-square mile area proposed for wind farms would not allow the offshore energy projects within 27.6 miles of the Kitty Hawk area.
In the N.C. State study, survey participants were shown images of offshore wind farms by day and by night, and at distances ranging from 5 to 18 miles offshore, in some instances closer than federal authorities would allow.
Kempton said surveying home renters about wind turbines so close to shore skewed the study.
The participants were also offered choices that included price discounts on rental homes in cases where the turbines would be visible.
“At best, the results indicate that some respondents would not require a discount to rent a home with turbines in view, so long as the farm is further than eight miles from shore,” the report said. “For other respondents, even large discounts would not be sufficient to induce them to accept a viewshed that included near or distant turbines.”