If You Build It, They Will Come: Alabama wind farm would boost tourism

This blog entry was written by Allie Brown, former Clean Energy Advocacy Manager at SACE.

Guest Blog | September 10, 2013 | Energy Policy, Wind

This past year APEX Wind Energy worked with private property owners in Baldwin County, Alabama to propose a 40-turbine wind farm that could power up to 23,000 average homes. On August 6th the Baldwin County Commission passed two ordinances that ban large wind turbines and wind farms. One of the major concerns centered around the local tourism industry.

Courtesy: NREL

It is important to recognize that beach tourism is a major source of income for Baldwin County. In 2012, the Baldwin County taxable lodging revenue reached close to $320 million, with Gulf Shores, Alabama being a major tourist destination.

Yet, it seems quite unlikely that the wind farm would negatively impact tourism if it were built.  The wind farm would be located 6 -11 miles as the crow flies due north, or about a 20 minute drive northwest from Gulf Shores. Thus, it doesn’t appear that the wind farm would jeopardize the already essential tourist locations in the county.

In fact, if developed and marketed properly, the wind farm could become a thriving tourist attraction of its own.

A study performed by the University of Delaware looked closely at the impact an offshore wind farm may have on Delaware beaches. The study surveyed 1,000 random out-of-state tourists to gauge their reaction to an offshore wind farm located 13 miles from the coast. While a few people would be deterred from the beach, 65.8 percent surveyed said they were likely to visit a beach specifically to see an offshore wind farm. Even more promising was that 44.5 percent of responders were likely to pay to take a boat tour of the wind farms. So, while a small minority may be deterred, many more would be attracted to the wind farms.

A similar study was carried out by Clemson University in the Grand Strand of coastal South Carolina. This study found that people mostly agree that offshore wind development would help tourism. They also mostly agree that they would support wind-powered hotels and restaurants and attend wind-related educational programs and museums. 

North Myrtle Beach Wind Turbine
Who says wind energy and tourism don’t mix? Here is one of the three city-owned wind turbines operating right next to the resorts in North Myrtle Beach.

As a point of fact, onshore wind farms have become tourist attractions. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, a five-turbine wind farm has greatly attracted tourists. Some 15,000 people visit the wind farm each year since the wind farm was constructed in 2005. According to resort owners, many guests have specifically requested rooms that overlook the wind farm. In Palm Springs, California, people pay $35 to go on a two hour viewing tour of 2,700 wind turbines. The Hilton Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida recently installed six small wind turbines, and the local tourism bureau lauded the hotel’s effort. In North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, wind turbines have been installed right beside the biggest downtown resorts and the City, the Chamber of Commerce, and the regional economic development council have partnered with other groups to make the city a “wind-powered economic zone” and attract tourists who want to stay in a renewable energy demonstration city.

With only one large-scale wind farm in the entire Southeast, the proposed wind farm in Baldwin County could provide a unique attraction to the region. While there are many beautiful beaches across the region, Baldwin County could advertise and promote this rare attraction.

While wind farms could provide a new tourist draw to Baldwin County, other energy resources are not as compatible with the sun and sand crowd. In 2010, Alabama’s coasts were under assault from the BP oil disaster. Baldwin County’s tourism industry lost $35.5 million in one year and is just now beginning to recover. Oil rigs off Alabama’s coast are still operational and pumping oil, yet the Baldwin County Commission has decided wind farms are a bigger threat to tourism than oil spills. On August 6th, the County Commission voted to ban wind farms in the county.

Instead of deterring tourists, a wind farm could actually help drive new tourism, and create a more secure, healthy, and reliable energy source for visitors. A wind farm could represent the county’s commit to providing a clean and healthy environment for tourists as well as the local community.

The Baldwin County commissioners should reconsider their decision to ban wind farms on private property. To contact the county commissioners, click here.

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