To meet the increasing demand for energy while reducing dependence on fossil fuels, many areas in the world have been heavily investing (US$ 110 billion in 2015) in both onshore and offshore wind; these investments increased global wind power capacity by 64 GW in 2015, a 17% increase (WEC, 2016). However, the impact of these newly sited technologies on the quality of life of local residents and visitors can be incredibly difficult to envision yet this understanding is crucial, given the importance of local visual impacts in focusing opposition to wind farms in locations across the globe (Phadke, 2010). A research tool allowing local stakeholders to experience a project's visual impact on the local context could: reduce stakeholder misperceptions (leading to buyer's remorse), identify visual adjustments to reduce stakeholder concerns and identify populations who may be more open to new information about the project.
Most research to elicit citizen's reactions to proposed windfarms have used either no visuals (relying on text descriptions) or static representations (e.g., 2-D photos or drawings).2 However, recently computer simulations are being used in wind planning (see Fooks et al., 2017; Ribe et al., 2018; Maslov et al., 2017) so it is relevant to test how computer simulations impact viewer responses.3 We contribute to this nascent literature on computerized information provision by testing tourists’ responses to a virtual reality (VR) or static picture (SP) rendering of a proposed offshore wind facility. We find VR respondents felt they had more information and less decision uncertainty than those seeing a SP. VR respondents also held relatively more negative or more extreme views of the wind turbines, and on average, reduce their stated intention to visit. This suggests that non-VR studies may collect data based on stakeholders’ (overly optimistic) misperceptions of the visual impacts of the wind project on their visitation experience; which would lead proponents and developers to underestimate potential future resistance to the wind project. In addition, once the wind farm is realized, stakeholders would update their perceptions and have buyer's remorse. We suggest the VR is a better visualization tool as it situates the windfarm within the local context.
Increased interest in wind energy yields a challenging tradeoff between consumer demand for renewable energy and the external costs associated with these production methods. An essential part of our transition to renewable energy is balancing these various opportunities and conflicts; in order to do so we must improve our knowledge of the tradeoffs. This study examined the role of novel information provision, in the form of virtual reality, in tourist acceptance of offshore windfarms and how those perceptions of windfarms can affect tourists’ visitation decisions. We observed that participants given the virtual rendering, therefore more information, felt better prepared to make evaluations about the impact of wind turbines on their visitation experience and provide better forecasts of how their behavior may change. In contrast, those who were given the 2-D picture were less confident in their answers (as indicated by a higher stated level of uncertainty, and higher levels of ‘neutral’ responses). Another consistent theme is the VR technology caused respondents, on average, to have more negative reactions to the wind turbines (although a small subset of respondents had more positive views).