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Tourism and offshore wind

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Story 1: Protests against offshore wind farms and responses in the Netherlands
In 2014 the Dutch cabinet agreed to stop the licensing process of some smaller offshore wind farms 60 km offshore, in favour of developing large-scale offshore wind farms close to the Dutch coast. The coastal zones close the new sites are known as major tourist areas.

Story 2: How a conflict escalated to a court case in Estonia
On 11 October 2012, the Government of Estonia initiated maritime spatial planning in the marine area around Hiiu island in Estonia. The draft plan included the development of areas for offshore wind farms, and the area north of Hiiuma was deemed most preferable. Several island residents were not satisfied with these designations.

Story 3: Adding visibility requirements to the MSP in Mecklenburg Vorpommern, Germany
In 2014, the planning authority of Mecklenburg Vorpommern decided to use a step by step approach is designation areas for offshore wind. The idea was to identify taboo areas where offshore wind could definitely not be located, as well as areas that would have no restrictions and could be used. The problem was that no areas emerged that had no restrictions at all.

Conflicting elements

Conflicts mostly arise over the attachment people have to a particular landscape (fears of the visual impacts of wind turbines) and access to sea areas.

  • Stakeholders related to beach and coastal tourism are often concerned that the visibility of offshore wind farms from the coast reduces the attractiveness of the place. This could negatively influence the number of visitors and with this the local economy.
  • Local property owners (residents and second home owners) can be concerned that offshore wind farms might decrease the value of their house, although there is no evidence for such a decrease.
  • Offshore wind farms can block potential sailing routes, or restrict the available space for other recreational activities, such as windsurfing or diving.

The visual impact of offshore wind farms – whether real or expected – can give rise to emotional discussions. People can be very attached to a particular place and may strongly resent the visual intrusion caused by an offshore wind farm.  Although the conflict over a wind farm may appear small, it can quickly escalate if these concerns are not taken seriously.

Drivers of conflict

Offshore wind farming is expanding in response to renewable energy objectives and the attractiveness of the industry in terms of technological development and jobs. The location of offshore wind farms is mostly driven by cost: Locations with low depths, short cable routes and high winds are usually preferred. Technological advances and cost reductions enable wind farms to operate at profit, leading to more and larger wind farms being constructed. Turbines are also increasingly erected in deeper water further offshore, which may be helpful for addressing conflicts related to the visibility of turbines. 

Figure: Annual and cumulative offshore wind installation in Europe. Source: Wind Europe (2017)

The EU's Blue Growth strategy identifies coastal and maritime tourism as an area with special potential to foster a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe. It is the biggest maritime sector in terms of gross value added and employment and is expected to grow by 2-3% by 2020.

The challenge for MSP authorities is to balance benefits for the national economy with  advantages and disadvantages for local coastal communities. Coastal tourism is a very important economic sector locally and in some EU countries also of vital importance for the national economy, so achieving the right balance can be a difficult task.