For Annah Bachman, a UNC first-year and Kitty Hawk resident, the Outer Banks are nothing without their views.
She’s not alone — at least, not according to a research study co-authored by N.C. State University professor Laura Taylor, which revealed home renters in the Outer Banks would be less likely to return if offshore wind turbines are visible from their homes.
Utility-scale wind farms can have anywhere from 150 to 200 wind turbines, which typically stand 50 stories tall, Taylor said. There are no offshore wind farms in the United States, and there is only one proposal to build one off the coast of Rhode Island.
“I wasn’t so sure that the tourism population would be amenable to that kind of change in the ocean view,” she said. “And if a turbine farm of that size was built off of one particular beach, they might choose to take their vacation somewhere else.”
Taylor said the Outer Banks region — including Bachman’s home, Kitty Hawk — is dominated by rental beach homes, which have a lot of repeat visitation and hold significant history for families.
“The special thing about Kitty Hawk and the Outer Banks is that, because it’s so small, it’s extremely difficult to commercialize and industrialize due to lack of space,” Bachman said in an email.
She said building offshore wind farms could negatively impact people’s enjoyment of the coast.
But the study’s results found if a utility-sized wind farm was further than eight miles from the shore, there would be no impact on rental properties, Taylor said.
“However, at five miles from shore, our results indicate folks would require at least a five percent discount on their rental price to be induced to rent at that location,” Taylor said.
Zachary Keith, lead organizer for the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club — a renewable energy advocacy group — said currently the closest any wind farm could be to the North Carolina coast is ten nautical miles, which would not impact property rentals according to Taylor’s study.
The North Carolina coastline has one the greatest potentials for offshore winds along the east coast, he said.
Keith said renewable energies like offshore winds can both benefit the economy and environment — creating new jobs, improving health and moving the state away from coal and natural gas.
“Even though renewable energy, offshore wind, is more expensive, when you actually factor in a lot of external costs for fossil fuel combustion — from health effects to climate change — the costs are leveling out,” he said. Taylor said while many people support wind energy development in the state, others care deeply about preserving the ocean’s beauty.
“While some might support environmental issues and wind energy is a part of that, they also feel that some places are special and should stay special and that, although wind turbine farms are a good cause in some sense, it’s spoiling a special place,” she said.