Given current technology offshore wind turbines are feasible to a depth of 30 meters. New technology exists to site wind turbines to a depth of 50 meters while 100 meter technology is on the horizon. Considering this, offshore wind turbines are feasible from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The benefits and costs of wind farms off the Outer Banks of North Carolina should be considered as part of the North Carolina energy policy making process. Wind farm benefits include reductions in carbon emissions and improved fishery habitat. Wind farm costs include a potential change in visual amenities, bird habitat loss, lost property values, and lost coastal recreation and tourism values. The magnitudes of these benefits and costs are currently unknown. In an ongoing study, Craig Landry (East Carolina University), Tom Allen (ECU), Todd Cherry (Appalachian State University) and myself (ASU) are trying to estimate the impacts of coastal wind farms on recreation and tourism.

A combination of in-person and telephone surveys is being used to assess the trip behavior by coastal residents with and without offshore wind farms. We have a sample of 361 respondents. We first asked a few general questions about climate change: 72% of respondents are concerned about global warming, 82% agree that man-made pollution has played a major factor in global warming and 91% support development of offshore wind energy.

Considering coastal wind farms, 54% believe wind farms would have a positive impact on coastal visual amenities, 88% support development of wind energy at the beach nearest their home and 84% support development of wind energy at all North Carolina beaches.

One of the objections to coastal wind farms is that they would hurt the recreation and tourism industry. So we asked for what they would do if wind turbines were at the beach they planned to go to on their next visit: “Now we are interested in how your beach trips might change if there are wind farms in North Carolina. Suppose that a wind farm is built at _____ [insert most likely beach respondent would visit].  The wind farm has 100 windmills, standing about 400 feet high and 1 mile from the shore. The next time you go to the beach would you still go to this beach, a different beach without a view of a wind farm, or would you take no beach trip at all?” 88% say that they would visit the same beach, only 6% would visit a different beach and only 5% would not go to the beach.

Then we asked: “Now suppose that similar wind farms are built at each of the 31 major beach towns in North Carolina. How many total beach trips would you expect to take to North Carolina beaches in the next 12 months?” Compared to the number of beach trips respondents expect to take without wind farms, visitation decreases by 7% (on average), or about 1 trip each year.

The take home message seems to be that coastal recreation and tourism won’t be creamed with wind farms. More results are sure to follow, so stay tuned.