An offshore wind farm erected off the coast of North Carolina would reduce coastal rentals and potentially harm tourism, even if the energy project was 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 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.
The 55-page paper was authored by Laura Taylor and Sanjay 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.
Their study said 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.
Local communities could lose millions of dollars in tourism revenue from an offshore wind farm, the report states. However, the report also allows for the possibility that coastal vacationers who don’t return could be replaced by others who don’t mind wind turbines.
The current proposal from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would allow wind farm development as close a 11.5 miles from North Carolina’s coastline east of Wilmington, but 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.
The 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. 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.”
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