Are offshore wind farms damaging for tourism?

Officials in US resort Ocean City are looking to push offshore wind farms further from the coast to protect tourism, but will it really help? Richard Heap reports


March 21, 2018

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Officials in US resort Ocean City are looking to push offshore wind farms further from the coast to protect tourism, but will it really help?

Ocean City boardwalk

Image credit: m01229 via Flickr

Four years ago, my family and I went on holiday to north Norfolk. The weather was pretty good for a holiday in England – and one of the highlights of that break was the time we spent in Sheringham, a traditional British seaside town. It had everything: the beach, the ice creams, the cheesy ‘wish you were here’ postcards.

And there was one thing we didn’t notice: the 317MW Sheringham Shoal wind farm, which was completed in 2012 and is located 11 miles offshore. Did it spoil anything? No. Hey, I even spend a few minutes poking around the visitor centre.

Maryland rejects new offshore wind

This is why I took great interest in a decision made by a committee of the Maryland House of Delegates.

This committee has rejected a proposal by officials in US resort town Ocean City that wanted to prevent firms from building offshore wind farms within 30 miles of the coast, in order to protect views from the beaches.

Ocean City officials have claimed that the sight of wind turbines on the horizon would damage tourism, and force visitors to Jersey Shore or Virginia Beach instead.

There are two developments off the coast of Maryland that they’re worried about: US Wind is working on an up-to-250MW project 17 miles from the coast, and Deepwater Wind is working on its 120MW Skipjack 19.5 miles offshore. As you’d expect, the developers of both projects are opposing the officials’ arguments.

Arguments in favour of new offshore wind

Deepwater chief executive Jeff Grybowski also argued – correctly, in my opinion – that changing the rules for offshore wind now would scare away developers and investors. Maryland has fought hard to be supportive for offshore wind, and we don’t expect it to change now. It looks as though the officials in Ocean City will just have to get on with it.

Not that we think there’ll be much of a problem. For one thing, the turbines are so far offshore that we can’t imagine they’d cause a problem to anyone but the most ardent wind farm hater. Nobody’s proposing to erect them on the Ocean City boardwalk.

Sheringham Shoal didn’t cause a problem for me and my family – and evidently the number of offshore wind farms off the coast of north Norfolk isn’t causing problems for the tourism industry either. In 2012, tourism was worth £415m to north Norfolk according to consultant Destination Research, and this has risen to £434m in 2013, £470m in 2014 and £484m in 2015.

On that basis, it doesn’t look like offshore wind has been putting people off.

But that’s just one example, so let’s also consider Brighton on the UK’s south coast, where E.On Climate & Renewables, Enbridge and a Macquarie-led group have been developing the 400MW Rampion eight miles from shore. Construction only finished last year and, so far, there’s no evidence of a downturn in tourism.

Could wind farms be helpful to wildlife?

And closer to Maryland, there’s Deepwater Wind’s 30MW Block Island. Last month, the American Wind Energy Association and the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind released a video where Block Island residents talked about how the turbines were providing an ‘artificial reef’ that attracted fish, and recreational fishermen.

We can’t ignore that the video has a pro-wind agenda but, nevertheless, it makes an argument using local sources that offshore wind farms can actively help some parts of the tourism industry, and with little evidence that they do damage to others.

I haven’t been to Ocean City, but it looks like it has a wide range of attractions – more than Sheringham, anyway! In that context, the impact of a wind farm 17 miles from shore is, if you’ll forgive the pun, a drop in the ocean.

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