Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wind Farms Becoming Tourist Attractions

The conventional wisdom has been that large wind farms will turn off tourists. That may be changing.

Pennsylvania's Somerset County boasts the state's highest mountain with gently rolling hills, three state parks, three commercial campgrounds, numerous summer festivals, and winter sports like skiing. So when a power company proposed building 100 utility-scale turbines in the county, many raised concerns about the impact to tourism.

Today, however, the turbines stand tall on the county's hills, and Ron Aldom, an executive at the Somerset County Regional Chamber of Commerce, says the county has not seen a decline in local tourism numbers; in fact, the opposite may be occurring. "People do come here for other reasons, but some people do want to go see the wind farms. We have some people who get off at (our) exit and ask, 'How can I go see these?' "

The same is happening in other areas:

Atlantic City, N.J., where the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm, now complete, has become a mini-tourist attraction. Tourists can get up close to turbines, each of which "saves 24,000 barrels of crude oil a year." The 35-story-tall machines attract about 15,000 visitors a year.

Searsburg, Vt., where a local business now offers periodic tours of the Searsburg Wind Power Facility, taking care to limit access in order to protect the wildlife habitat.

Cape Cod, Mass., where HyLine Cruises is already planning to offer tours of a huge, recently approved offshore wind farm. HyLine reportedly opposed the farm when it was announced, but now predicts its turbine tours and a windpower visitor center will be more popular than the whale tours the company offers there.

North Palm Springs, Calif., where a company charges $30 a customer for a 90-minute bus tour of a 30-year-old wind farm. The company describes the tour as "a short course in ecology awareness and environmentally friendly power" that demonstrates turbine tech evolution.

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