Posted on December 2nd, 2014

Back to School – Wind Farms

The America’s Cup is the oldest known international sporting trophy. The Cup pits two yachts against one another, the defender and the challenger, over a length of roughly ten nautical miles (that’s 12 miles for land lovers). The race is considered a sprint and the wind is what powers these vessels to victory. Wind power is one of the original green energy ideas, and the industry is still learning about how to best harness its potential. Wind has been used in boating since at least 5,000 B.C. on the Nile River, and the Persians used wind to grind grain and pump water as far back as 900 B.C. By 1,000 A.D., the technology had reached Europe, and the Dutch famously used it for windmills to help drain lakes. It reached the United States by 1850 with the advent of the U.S. Wind Engine Company. And of course, we can’t forget the lovable Don Quixote who used to joust at windmills in his fantasies – but that is taking us a bit off topic.

Recently, researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University embarked on a study to assess the economic impacts of Scottish wind farms and they used GIS technology as an aid. In November 2007, a new policy declared that 50% of Scotland’s electricity would come from renewable sources by 2020. To reach this threshold, wind energy is the focus; however there was concern that the widespread building of wind turbines could impact tourism as they may be considered an eyesore. Accordingly, their study set out to determine the following: the number of tourists that would be affected; the reactions of the tourists to the presence of wind farms; and the economic impact of those reactions. Using GIS, the researchers estimated the number of tourists that would actually come into contact with wind farms, and tied that to potential financial losses from reduced tourism.

study_mapThe zone of visual impact from wind turbines in Caithness, Scotland.

In addition to their use of GIS, the researchers interviewed 180 people who lived near wind farms at the time of the study. After the interviews were concluded, it was determined that 29% of respondents stated wind farms detracted from their experience of the countryside. In response to a planned wind farm in Argyll, the majority of respondents, however, said that they did not think it would affect future visitors. It was actually believed that since tourists would know of the positive benefits of wind energy, that it might potentially add to their enjoyment and thus not make wind farms a significant blight on tourism hotspots.

Survey evidence did indicate that the more transparent planners were about their goals to transition to renewable energy, and what should be expected in terms of infrastructure, resulted in greater public support. If saving the earth and potentially saving money in the long-run were on the table, most were on board with the move to wind energy and were okay with the change to the landscape.

A second portion of the study looked at tourists specifically. Nearly 400 people were surveyed and an overwhelming 93% percent said they would not change their travel plans when shown before and after pictures of potential wind farms.

The takeaway for the authors was that while there would be some economic doldrums associated with the construction of wind farms, it was more likely to take place during the construction stages. Already established wind farms in Scotland that were near high-destination locations did not suffer significant loss in either the number of tourists visiting, or dollars spent in the area. Because green energy is an international issue and concern, predominately people believed that this form of technological innovation was worth the minor inconveniences that accompanied it.

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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