Study to look at Wind Farm’s impact on tourism

URI team hired by BOEM
Fri, 02/10/2017 - 11:00am

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has engaged the University of Rhode Island for a new project designed to identify the impact that the Block Island Wind Farm might have on the state’s recreation and tourism.

An interdisciplinary group of URI social scientists and coastal management practitioners, including professors David Bidwell and Amelia Moore from the Department of Marine Affairs, Hollie Smith from the Harrington School of Communication and Media, and Jennifer McCann and Tiffany Smythe from the Coastal Resources Center and Sea Grant will conduct the study.

BOEM said information gleaned from the two-year social science study that is scheduled to run from 2017 to 2019, will be used to create socioeconomic indicators to help regulators, industry, communities, and researchers measure the impacts of offshore renewable energy facilities.

McCann, Director of Coastal Programs at the CRC, told The Block Island Times that, “This study is critical for increasing our understanding, both in Rhode Island and in coastal communities across the country, about how important economic engines, in this case, Block Island’s vital and valuable tourism industry, are effected by the development of offshore wind energy facilities.”

“What we learn here for Block Island will be useful for understanding the effects both for our local communities, and at regional and national levels,” said McCann, who noted that the CRC played a leading role in the Ocean Special Area Management Plan for siting of the Block Island Wind Farm. “We take this very seriously. We are working directly with islanders, like (Block Island Tourism Executive Director) Jessica Willi, and (resident) Judy Gray, for example — two such people bringing their respective tourism and science backgrounds to the project.”

Willi told The Times that she was “honored to be a part of the study,” and excited about having the data that it will provide regarding Block Island. “It means that we’re going to have better information than we do now about some aspects of tourism” on the island. She also said, “It’s high-time that Block Island has a voice.”

McCann said that, “Coastal communities everywhere will be looking to our project group, and the participating public, to learn how social science, practically applied, can help shape how coastal people interact with, and live with, offshore renewable energy facilities.”   

“Researchers will conduct a content analysis of materials related to the development of the wind farm, such as state public hearing transcripts, public comments, and local news coverage to identify recreational and tourism-related issues, concerns, and potential indicators,” explained McCann. “The content analysis results will be used to help inform focus group questions and the general research framework.”

Jim Bennett, Chief of the Office of Renewable Energy Programs, said, “The objectives of the study include identifying and analyzing observed effects of the Block Island Wind Farm on recreation and tourism activities, and providing a framework for tourism and recreation monitoring at other locations.”

“The URI team was involved with the preparation of the Ocean Special Area Management Plan, and knows the community and how best to engage all relevant parties,” said Bennett. “The Rhode Island Ocean SAMP was an effort to understand the human and biological use of the areas off the coast of Rhode Island out to 30 miles. The development of the plan required extensive stakeholder input and identification of key groups and organizations with an interest in the ocean. And, the plan was used to decide the best location for the Block Island Wind Facility.”

As for what the research will determine, McCann said, “We won’t know until the project is carried out. However, we do know that coastal communities are highly invested in understanding the science that impacts their lives, and we are pleased to be helping the federal government and Block Island embark on an effort that will certainly have local, regional and national benefits.”

“Once approved by BOEM, this project and its results will be readily shared throughout our extensive network, and through our own network developed here at URI, throughout the Sea Grant National College Program, and beyond,” said McCann. “Ultimately, researchers will develop indicators for BOEM to use in National Environmental Policy Act analyses to evaluate the effects of proposed offshore wind energy facility development.”

The Block Island Wind Farm, constructed by Deepwater Wind, is situated three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island, and is in operation, and capable of producing 30-megawatts of energy on a daily basis.