Wind turbines across the country have become tourist attractions, just like their old windmill predecessors. Some people go out of their way to find wind farms, snap pictures and get a glimpse of homegrown American clean energy. This shouldn’t be a surprise. A new Navigant study found that ten times as many Americans have positive attitudes towards wind energy than those that have negative attitudes.
Additionally, the few American studies completed regarding wind farm tourism – including those completed by Clemson University and University of Delaware – suggest that wind farms can boost tourism and that tourists tend be supportive of wind farms near their recreation areas. Meanwhile, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that wind farms support a cottage tourism industry.
Wind Farms Are Tourist Attractions
In Atlantic City, New Jersey, the city’s five wind turbines draw some 15,000 visitors per year – to the wastewater treatment plant where the turbines were installed. In Pennsylvania, the Somerset County Regional Chamber of Commerce has noticed a slight uptick in tourism because of nearby wind farms. In California, people pay $35 to go on a 90 minute tour of wind farms near Palm Springs. A ferry company in Massachusetts will offer trips to go visit the Cape Wind offshore wind farm, when it gets built (Hy-Line ferry company had previously opposed to the project, until they realized tourists want to see the turbines). Any number of bed and breakfast inns around the country highlight their proximity to wind farms as attractions, including the Pheasant Country Inn (Fowler, Indiana), Hotel Beaumont (Beaumont, Kansas) and the Guest House & Cottage (Richwood, West Virginia). Extreme sports fans may like to climb a wind turbine for charity (at $500 per team). Once on top, adrenaline junkies may want to try base jumping off wind turbines. Meanwhile, offshore wind farms could provide a deeper experience for scuba diving (and fishing too).
Turbine Tourism in the South
Think turbine tourism couldn’t happen in the South? Think again. The South’s first wind farm, the Buffalo Mountain project in Tennessee, is highlighted as one of the “most visited attractions” for Windrock Park. Windrock Park is also known nationwide as the country’s largest private riding park for off-highway vehicles (OHV), all-terrain vehicles (ATV), dirt bikes and the like. If you decide to go visit Windrock Park to see the Buffalo Mountain wind farm, you can keep with the wind theme and stay at the Windmill Inn bed and breakfast in Oliver Springs.
If you prefer warmer climes, you can head south to Florida and stay at a beachfront hotel with wind turbines on the roof. Since opening in 2007, the Hilton Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has been dedicated to energy conservation. This summer, the hotel decided to take their energy savings to the next level by installing six small-scale rooftop wind turbines. The local tourism bureau praised the hotel’s effort, recognizing that these turbines have given the city an extremely unique feature. The Hilton became the first hotel in Fort Lauderdale to be awarded a Florida Green Lodging Designation by the State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
In North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, wind turbines have been installed right beside the biggest downtown resorts. In addition to electricity generation, the turbines are providing the city with key data for future coastal and offshore wind energy development as well as educational benefits for the community. The city, the Chamber of Commerce, and the regional economic development council have partnered with the North Strand Coastal Wind Team (NSCWT) to make the city a “wind-powered economic zone” to attract tourists who want to stay in a renewable energy demonstration city. The surrounding communities can already see the major benefits. A survey conducted by the NSCWT showed that 85% or the respondents support the wind energy research.
Moving north, we find evidence of a wind turbine supporting restaurant ecotourism. In North Carolina, the Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills was the first wind-powered brewery in the United States, providing a unique attraction for the town. Built in 2008, this wind turbine saves the brewing station $150-$250 per month on their electric bill and will offset approximately 1.2 tons of air pollutants and 250 tons of greenhouse gases over its operating life. Additionally, the restaurant hopes to provide educational benefits for the customers and community. Inside the restaurant customers can view information on the turbine and the amount of energy it generates. On top of the turbine there is a weather station that contains research equipment that sends data to multiple North Carolina universities.
Why Do People Want to Visit Wind Turbines? Ecotourism
While there are any numbers of reasons to visit a vacation spot, wind turbines may be tourist attractions because of an interest in ecotourism. Ecotourism has been on the rise for a few decades and studies now show that it is one of the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry, registering growth between 20% and 34% annually. Perhaps coincidentally, wind energy development across the United States has grown substantially in the past few years, alongside ecotourism growth. In 2012, wind energy was the top source of new power generation in the country.
Now that further wind farm development in the South is virtually inevitable, the region stands to attract more visitors to areas that are perhaps a little off the beaten track.