They have been called an eyesore, accused of lowering property values and blamed for a wide variety of ailments from dizziness to insomnia. Not until very recently, however, has anyone called wind turbines a tourist attraction.
In Michigan, well over 900 wind turbines, many taller than the Statue of Liberty, are doing their part to help the state reach its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of ten percent renewable energy by 2015. They are also turning into a must-see stop for visitors to the Great Lakes.
This summer, there were waiting lists for bus tours of the Lake Winds Energy Park in Ludington, in Michigan. The park is located in the western part of the state, right next to U.S. hwy 31, and the tour was created in response to the sheer number of people who would stop their cars and take pictures of the energy park’s 56 industrial sized pinwheels.
You can’t really miss them when you go through town,” Sarah Kronlein, administrative coordinator at the Ludington and Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce told Livingston Daily Press. “A lot of people are curious about how they are made and how they work.”
On the tours offered at Lake Winds, visitors are shown a short video about wind energy and then taken on a one-hour tour of the park, during which they are able to get out of the bus and stand underneath the giants of clean energy.
Michigan isn’t the only place where visitors are paying to see turbines, either. In North Palm Springs, California, tourists pay up to $35 to see one of the country’s oldest wind farms. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, wind turbines at the city’s waste water treatment plant attract an average of 15,000 visitors every year. Even in Cape Cod, where the offshore wind project has seemed to cause nothing but controversy for years, Hy-line Cruises is preparing to offer tours of the first-of-its-kind site.
Despite the fact that some people are willing to pay and wait in lines to get a better view of hundreds of half-a-football-field-sized blades sweeping through the sky, there is still widespread fear, especially in breezy coastal communities, that wind turbines will crash tourism-based economies.
Studies trying to estimate the effect of turbines on tourism have come up with various numbers, suggesting that the impact is relatively low, but not negligible. One study found that “32 percent of tourists and locals do not mind wind turbines at all, while only 9.2 percent do,” and another that “59 percent of those surveyed… said they did not mind the turbines, while 28 percent said they were ‘acceptable’; in contrast, only 12 percent said they did not like the turbines.”
On a related topic, a recent study led by researchers at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, found no statistical evidence that the presence of wind turbines affected nearby house prices. These results were based on home sale data for 51,000 houses in 27 counties and nine states.
In Britain, avoiding additional wind farm construction is being held up by conservative MPs as a convincing argument to invest in 12 new nuclear reactors, the first in a generation.
“Without new nuclear, local people would face many thousands more wind farms blighting our landscape,” Michael Fallon, Conservative energy minister told the Telegraph.