RALEIGH — Some beach vacation home renters may be discouraged from visiting the beach if they have to look at offshore wind turbines along the state’s coast, according to a N.C. State University-led study.
Dr. Sanja Lutzeyer and Dr. Laura Taylor of NCSU, along with Dr. Daniel Phaneuf of the University of Wisconsin, released on Monday a study called “The Amenity Costs of Offshore Wind Farms: Evidence from a Choice Experiment.”
According to the study, it’s results show that from a survey of 792 beach home renters, of which 484 responded, none of the respondents were willing to pay more to rent a home in sight of offshore wind turbines – thus providing evidence against the belief some wind energy supporters have that turbines could become a tourist attraction – and many of them said they’d vacation elsewhere if turbines were in sight of the beach.
The study results also showed if discounts were used to attract visitors to keep coming to the beach, the rental value losses would still reach 5 percent or more of potential rental profits if turbines were put within 8 miles of the shore.
Dr. Taylor initiated the study. She said when the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management began looking at the potential to create offshore wind farm leases back in 2010, she noticed how close to the Outer Banks they were looking and was concerned it may have an impact to beach visitation.
Now that the report is complete, Dr. Taylor said she and her colleagues plan to submit it for publication to the science journal Energy Economics.
“Since the study received support from the N.C. Department of Commerce, we gave them an oral report once the study was done,” she said.
Dr. Taylor said they don’t anticipate their report will impact offshore wind energy exploration in North Carolina.
“All the proposed lease blocks (from BOEM) are 10 miles or more offshore,” she said.
Dr. Lutzeyer, Dr. Taylor and Dr. Phaneuf said in their study wind power is a fast-growing source of renewable energy in the U.S.
“Land-based wind energy capacity has grown at an average rate of 25 percent per year, resulting in an installed base of over 66 gigawatts,” they said. “While this growth places the U.S. among the global leaders in installed capacity, offshore wind energy remains largely unexploited.”
The surveyors said estimates put wind energy potential off the U.S. coastlines at more than 4,000 gigawatts.
They said according to a 2010 study, this is roughly enough to power 2.8 billion homes for a year.
“To date, however, there are no utility-scale offshore wind facilities in the country,” they said.
The study surveyors said offshore wind development has lagged mostly for two reasons. First, offshore wind costs are still substantially higher than land-based fossil fuel alternatives. Second, they said local opposition to offshore wind farms can be a significant impediment.
The surveyors said one important driver of the opposition to offshore wind farms is the concern the turbines will spoil the offshore view. They said current offshore wind turbines come up about 500 feet over the water level, which is about the height of a 50-story building.
“The turbines are lit at night with red beacons that flash in unison every two seconds,” study surveyors said, “and their height makes them technically visible out to 30 miles from shore … different combinations of height, footprint and distance from shore can lead to substantially altered viewsheds.”
To study beachgoers’ opinions on offshore wind energy farms, the surveyors partnered with three vacation property rental agencies in North Carolina. Customers who rented beach homes with these companies were sent mail surveys during summer 2011 and January 2012 to determine how utility-scale wind farms might affect their vacation choices.
The survey packet included images depicting wind farms of different sizes at different distances from shore.
The customers were asked to select from rental properties that varied in their prices and view of the ocean.
Dr. Lutzeyer, Dr. Taylor and Dr. Phaneuf said they found “several striking results” from their survey.
“In general, (surveyed) renters have strong preferences for an ocean view at their rental location that doesn’t include visible turbines, despite general support for wind energy among the sampled individuals,” they said.
“There’s no population segment that would be willing to pay more to rent a home with turbines in view,” they continued. “At best, the results indicate that some respondents wouldn’t require a discount to rent a home with turbines in view, so long as the farm is further than eight miles from shore.”
The surveyors said about 20 percent of the responders said they wouldn’t expect a discount if wind turbines were in sight of their beach rentals.
A total of 54 percent of them, however, said if wind turbines were put offshore they’d vacation elsewhere.
The surveyors said less than half the people they surveyed said they’d drive 30 minutes to see an offshore wind farm.
They took this as an indication wind farms aren’t likely to draw tourists.
The surveyors said they think their findings have several policy implications.
They said placing turbines further out to sea would eliminate their impact to the view, which could pass a benefit-cost test.
“We find that the welfare gains of moving wind farms as little as 3 miles further from shore (from 5 to 8 miles) can outweigh the increased capital costs of doing so for an area with as few as 1,000 rental homes,” the surveyors said.
The surveyors also said they think the negative affects of offshore wind farms can be attributed mostly to how close they are to the shore, rather than the number of turbines.
This, they said, combined with the fact the negative effects of turbines drop when they’re placed 8 miles or more offshore, implies developers would be able to use larger arrays by going that far or farther offshore.