Does wind power development harm tourism?
Targets for reductions in carbon emissions, and to decrease dependence on fossil fuels as energy sources, have led to promotion of renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind power. Wind power development has proved controversial in many areas, with public concerns about noise, the impact of associated infrastructure, possible effects on birds, and the visual impact on the landscape. Environmental groups campaigning against development of wind farms in areas they suggest are inappropriate, such as those of high landscape and wilderness value, often cite potential harm to tourism as one of the economic arguments against proposed developments. A recent study by BiGGAR Economics assesses the impact of the onshore wind industry on the Scottish tourism sector, and suggests that there is no overall relationship between the development of wind energy and tourism employment in an area.
The first stage of the analysis considered the potential impacts that onshore wind developments have had at a Local Authority level. Between 2009 and 2013, the level of employment in tourism in Scotland increased by 10.8%. During the same time period the number of turbines in Scotland increased by 121%. Tourism employment and wind development are spread unevenly between different local authorities, but no clear relationship was found between the growth in the onshore wind sector and growth in the tourism sector – perhaps not surprising as rural local authorities in Scotland, which are the regions with greatest wind power development, often cover very large areas in which the overall percentage of land affected by wind farms may be relatively small. In order to consider the effects at a more local level, BiGGAR Economics considered the impacts associated with 18 wind farms across Scotland, all built between 2009 and 2013.
The change in tourism employment in the immediate areas surrounding was analysed for each of the wind farm case studies. This captured trends within the tourism sector at the Local Authority level. There was a significant variation between sites and there was no overall relationship between the development of wind energy and tourism employment in an area. The report concludes that “wind farms do not cause a decrease in tourism employment either at a local or a national level”.
One concern with the report is that when reviewing prior evidence on the potential impact of wind farms on Scottish tourism, research conducted by environmental groups is not referred to. Thus it cites a survey of 380 tourists conducted by Glasgow Caledonian University which finds that 75% of people felt that wind farms had a positive or neutral effect on the landscape, but not a study of 2269 GB adults for the John Muir Trust which reported that 43 per cent of people in Britain who visit scenic areas in the UK for their natural heritage and beauty would be ‘less likely to visit a scenic area with a large concentration of wind farms’. In the JMT study, 40 per cent of people said the Government should prioritise protecting scenic wild land from large commercial wind farms, even if this means that there is less opportunity to develop wind power in those areas, compared with 28 per cent who said the Government should prioritise building large commercial wind farms, even if this means that some are placed on scenic wild land.
Most of the published research on wind farms indexed in the Leisure Tourism Database is concerned with offshore development. One study in Scotland which combined GIS analysis of the number of tourists exposed to onshore wind farms with an internet survey of willingness to pay for landscape, suggests a very small but significant economic impact of wind farm development (Riddington et al., 2010). This study also mentions the greater landscape impact of overhead power lines which are required to move power from the remote areas where wind farms may be situated to the more populated areas where electricity is required – something not always considered in other surveys published in support of wind development.
A study in the Czech Republic by Frantal and Kunc (2011) suggests that wind turbines have minor effects on tourist destination choice, but that turbines are perceived more positively than other industrial facilities. In Portugal, Sousa and Kastenholz (2015) find that a wind farm used as a case study did not affect the tourism sector significantly, although some people surveyed expressed negative opinions on the visual impact. The potential for promoting areas with wind farms as “green destinations” is discussed, but it is suggested that as wind farms become common they are no longer a potential destination feature.
The reading list below includes a number of studies on offshore wind farms. To access the BiGGAR Economics press release of their wind power study in Scotland, and to download the full report, go to the BiGGAR website.
This article was originally published on Cabi.org.