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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Do turbines threaten coastal RI’s cash cow?

By ecoRI News staff
The view of Block Island's turbines from Charlestown's Blue Shutters
Beach. Oh yeah, tourists will take one look at that and will go back to
New Jersey. (Photo by Will Collette)
In Rhode Island state ocean waters, the nation’s first wind farm, southeast of Block Island, is operational and generating power. 

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has contracted the University of Rhode Island to document the effects of the Block Island Wind Farm on recreation and tourism.

This information will be used to then create socioeconomic indicators to help regulators, industry, communities and researchers measure the impacts of offshore renewable-energy facilities on recreation and tourism activities in Rhode Island and potentially other places in the country. 

This two-year social science project is underway to both develop the indicators and engage the local community in the process.

“This project will build upon BOEM’s completed and ongoing studies seeking to characterize the effects of offshore wind on recreation and tourism activities,” said Amy Stillings, a BOEM industry economist from the Office of Renewable Energy Programs.

The project is expected to yield: the first available empirical data on the effects of a U.S. offshore wind farm on coastal recreation and tourism; a suite of indicators that can be used to assess the potential effects of future offshore wind energy projects throughout the United States; and a recommended subset of indicators that can be used to monitor the effects of the wind farm on Rhode Island’s recreation and tourism activities.

These three products will help BOEM plan for the installation and management of future offshore wind-energy projects in federal waters.

An interdisciplinary group of URI social scientists and coastal management practitioners, including David Bidwell and Amelia Moore from the Department of Marine Affairs in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, Hollie Smith from the Harrington School of Communication and Media, and Jennifer McCann and Tiffany Smythe from the Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant, will provide BOEM with a technical approach to document the effects of the Block Island Wind Farm on recreation and tourism in the Rhode Island region.

For this BOEM project, an advisory committee, made up of local industry and community representatives, regulators and social scientists, ensures that the indicators are both rigorous and realistic, and respond to the needs and issues of communities and stakeholders.

“The Block Island community looks forward to having a greater understanding about how the wind farm interacts with island tourism and recreation as it is very important to the people who live here and earn livings from these industries,” said Jessica Willi, executive director of the Block Island Tourism Council.