Beyond the beach: Tradeoffs in tourism and recreation at the first offshore wind farm in the United States

T. Smythe, David Bidwell, Amelia Moore, H. Smith, J. McCann

Despite the growth of offshore wind energy and concerns that projects will harm tourism and recreation, there is a lack of empirical research on the effects of operating wind farms on tourism and recreation. The existing literature tends to treat tourists and recreationists as a monolithic group, focused almost entirely on beachgoers. Further, research regarding offshore wind energy and tourism puts forth a narrow conception of tourists, concerned primarily with a natural seascape. The 30-MW Block Island Wind Farm, the first offshore wind farm in the United States, is located offshore an iconic tourism destination and provides a laboratory for understanding interactions between offshore wind energy and the tourism and recreation sectors. We conducted an exploratory qualitative study through which tourism and recreation professionals and participants met in focus groups to discuss experiences with and observations of this project. Analysis revealed diverse viewpoints and largely positive encounters; though, some negative impacts were identified, and participants weighed project costs and benefits. Perspectives were shaped, in part, by experiences with the planning process. Visual impacts were a major concern; however, most participants described the project’s appearance in neutral or positive terms. Overall, the wind farm is functioning as an attractant, either as a novel sight or as a recreational fishing destination. Participants felt the wind farm should be promoted for tourism but cautioned that interest may be short-lived and there may be less support for larger offshore developments. Findings support tourism and recreation sector engagement throughout offshore wind project planning and operation.

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