UNH Research Finds Recreationists Support Offshore Wind Energy Development

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Stock photo: Sunset on Lake Erie

Stock photo: Sunset on Lake Erie 

DURHAM, N.H.— From boat enthusiasts to anglers, researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found surprisingly widespread support for offshore wind energy development (OWD) among outdoor recreationists. Also unanticipated was the strong support across the entire political spectrum, from liberals to moderates and conservatives, with respondents seeing OWD as a positive impact upon their recreation experience.

“These findings are unique because most previous studies show that recreationists tend to oppose energy development on or near public lands and protected areas,” said Michael Ferguson, assistant professor of recreation management and policy. “But most of the respondents in our research embraced the idea of offshore wind development. Besides the benefits of renewable energy, they saw it as a benefit to the entire community and region, creating tourism opportunities, and enhancing their own recreation experiences.”

In the study, recently published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, the researchers from UNH and Pennsylvania State University examined more closely factors influencing water-based recreationists' perceptions towards OWD in general on Lake Erie. As part of the study, respondents were asked questions about recreation frequency, OWD support and opposition, political orientation, and perceptions towards climate change. Of the 242 respondents, nearly one-half identified as boaters, with the remaining evenly split between beach users and anglers and all were largely repeat day trip visitors. The results of this study suggested significantly high levels of support for OWD among the water-based outdoor recreationists at Lake Erie across the political spectrum.

“Offshore wind energy development has been slow to develop in the United States for various social, ecological, and political reasons,” said Ferguson. “But our findings suggest that recreationists may be open to it and supportive of it.”

Some examples cited for support include unique recreation and tourism attractions like boat tours to OWD sites, better fishing opportunities especially in areas that lack natural structures that would attract more fish (like rocks and reefs), and more job opportunities for everything from construction to tourism related businesses like rentals and restaurants.

Contributing to these findings are Andrew Mowen, principal investigator and professor of recreation park and tourism management at The Pennsylvania State University; Alan Graefe, co-principal investigator and professor of recreation park and tourism management at The Pennsylvania State University; Samantha Powers, doctoral student in recreation park and tourism management at The Pennsylvania State University; Nate Trauntvein, assistant professor of kinesiology and health science at Utah State University; and Jeffrey Jacquet, assistant professor of environment and natural resources at The Ohio State University.

This work was supported in part by Pennsylvania Sea Grant.

The University of New Hampshire is a flagship research university that inspires innovation and transforms lives in our state, nation and world. More than 16,000 students from all 50 states and 71 countries engage with an award-winning faculty in top ranked programs in business, engineering, law, health and human services, liberal arts and the sciences across more than 200 programs of study. UNH’s research portfolio includes partnerships with NASA, NOAA, NSF and NIH, receiving more than $100 million in competitive external funding every year to further explore and define the frontiers of land, sea and space. 

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Stock photo: Sunset on Lake Erie