Wind Farm study: ‘Minimal negative impact’

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 8:45am

A University of Rhode Island researcher who has been studying the Block Island Wind Farm for the past year said there has been “minimal negative impact” from the wind farm on tourism and marine life. The wind farm, which sits three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island, has been operational since September 2016.

Kaytee Canfield, a Ph.D. candidate in Marine Affairs at URI, said her preliminary findings are based on research, including information gathered through personal interaction on Block Island. Canfield is drafting her Ph.D. dissertation on decision-making on tourism-dependent islands.

“I have have heard nothing that would count as a significant negative impact,” Canfield told The Block Island Times. “I haven’t heard visitors to the [Southeast] lighthouse complain about the view of the turbines, for example. It is very important to emphasize though, I am still collecting data, so preliminary findings are just that; preliminary. Thus far, I have seen minimal negative tourist reactions to the Block Island Wind Farm.”

Canfield said the same could be said for ecological impact. “Attending the December symposium about the wind farm also gave me a fuller picture of what has been found on its impact on the ecological landscape that interacts with the farm. I was happy to verify through these researchers that there have been minimal negative impacts of the turbines on the plants and animals in the area.”

Canfield was referring to the Southern New England Offshore Wind Energy Science Forum, which was sponsored by the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council and Deepwater Wind.

During the forum, developers, marine industry professionals, including fishermen, and the public, shared information, and ideas about the wind farm and its marine environment.

She noted that her research has not included a study of the impact of the turbines on whales. “While there have been natural scientists that looked at that impact, our study has been focused on the tourism impacts, looking at humans as the central species of interest. So while we have heard these claims, we have not spoken with people about them.”

Canfield said she chose to conduct her dissertation research on “Block Island because it is a tourism-dependent economy based on a remote island; one that can only be reached by plane or boat. I am interested in the island because of the seasonal variability in the population, its status as a single town encompassing the entire island, and its focus on preserving land. I am also looking into these same questions regarding decision-making on Catalina Island in California.”

“I have visited Block Island about 10 times, and will continue to visit throughout the summer season. I have focused on learning about the dynamics of how residents interact with one another, and the specifics of the entities managing different decisions and sectors on the island. Understanding these relationships is important for me to make effective choices in how I communicate with residents about my research, and who can provide insight on various aspects of my study.” 

Canfield said her approach to her research changed because of the lack of reliable internet access on Block Island. That meant she needed “to focus less on internet surveys and more on phone calls and in-person conversations. Continually visiting the island and researching the historic evolution of tourism on the island is key to being sure I fully understand the places, people, and events residents mention in our conversations.”

As for what she hopes to learn from her research, Canfield said, “I hope to learn the various perspectives on how tourism decisions are made, whether residents feel they have a voice in these decisions, and if there are trends in who has shared views on these matters. I am not ready to make any conclusions, as I have only completed about four interviews for my own project, and that is by no means a full picture of island perspectives.” 

“I am interested in questions of residents’ perspectives of decision-making on tourism-dependent islands and the fairness of tourism development to draw more attention to how residents are impacted by such development, and if it provides residents the opportunity to have meaningful access to decision-making and the resources they need to live on these remote islands,” said Canfield. 

Canfield said she will continue her “research through the shoulder season, and likely have some preliminary results to share by early October. I do not currently have anything lined up for sharing results, but I do hope I can share my findings at Block Island community meetings for the Tourism Council and Town Council based on the recommendations from residents.” 

If anyone is a seasonal or full-time Block Island resident, past or present, and would like to be interviewed or has input to share, please contact Canfield at, or at (805) 550-0727.