An early glimpse into feelings about the Wind Farm

Study by URI
Fri, 09/29/2017 - 9:00am

A team from the University of Rhode Island that has been studying the impact the Block Island Wind Farm has had on tourism also, as a byproduct of the study, provided a small glimpse into who comes to the island for a getaway. 

The research team, headed up by David Bidwell, Ph.D, a professor in the Department of Marine Affairs, interviewed a total of 205 (139 were visitors) people this past summer about their thoughts on the Wind Farm. 

The average age was 53 and had a median household income of $100,000 to $150,000. Of those, 44 percent identified themselves as politically independent, 31 percent were Democrats and 15 percent were Republicans. Their reasons for coming to Block Island centered on the physical attributes of the island: its ocean views, natural landscape, outdoor activities, and the beaches. Bidwell noted that these biographical details may not reflect the visitor population as a whole, but rather those who may be predisposed to take a survey. (The study is also just in its beginning stages.)

A majority of the people surveyed  so far said they felt the Wind Farm was good for the residents of the island, but a minority weighed in and said the physical structures had a negative impact on the environment.

“There was some degree of ambivalence,” said Bidwell, whose team was invited to speak at the Block Island Tourism Council’s Annual Meeting,  held at The Spring House, by Tourism Council Director Jessica Willi.

Bidwell said that a majority of people — 77 percent of those surveyed — said the presence of the Wind Farm would have “no change on their desire to come back to Block Island.” 

Research team member Amelia Moore, Ph.D., who also is a member of URI’s Department of Marine Affairs, offered some early results of her part of the study, which was called “Participant Observation.” 

She interviewed people and asked why they chose Block Island as a travel destination and how they felt about the Wind Farm. Moore said she interviewed people at the Southeast Light House, at the Bluffs, on the ferry, in small boat tours, and while she was shopping and fishing.

Moore said the primary response she received from people about the presence of the Wind Farm was, “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.” She said there was some confusion about how the wind turbines actually worked, and many asked, “What is the turbine doing when it’s not spinning?” 

Moore said that people expressed “a lot of appreciation and admiration as part of the scenic experience of that space” — especially at the Southeast Light location. 

Adjectives most often used to describe the turbines were “graceful, majestic and prehistoric.” Some people said they had come to the island specifically to see the turbines, and because the project was the “first in the nation.”

Some respondents did not approve of the wind farm in terms of the politics and economics surrounding the Wind Farm’s permitting process and installation, she said.

“Occasionally,” said Moore,  someone would say, “I don’t like them here.”

The study is being financed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, one of the federal agencies involved in the permitting process of the Wind Farm.