One of the commonly-cited concerns regarding the presence of wind turbines and solar farms in Cornwall is that they may have a negative effect on the tourist experience, jeopardising the number of people visiting the county and putting incomes from tourism at risk.
However a recent study commissioned by Good Energy suggested that such fears are unfounded.
Good Energy, which provides its customers with energy from 100% renewable sources, felt there was a lack of real evidence to inform the debate surrounding the relationship between renewables and tourism. “We couldn’t find a definitive up-to-date study on the attitudes of holidaymakers in England towards wind and solar farms,” they explained, “so we decided to commission one, starting somewhere with both a vibrant tourism sector and a growing renewables industry: Cornwall.”
The study took place during August 2013 at six busy locations across Cornwall. A total of 1,007 visitors were questioned about their attitudes to renewable energy installations by the South West Research Company, an independent body whose involvement established the impartiality of the research.
The general findings regarding attitudes towards renewables were in line with national statistics, with 80% of people questioned generally in favour of renewable energy (74% and 75% for wind and solar respectively.)
90% of visitors were aware of the presence of wind farms in the county. Of those people, 71% reported that their presence had no impact at all on their visit to Cornwall, while 19% reported a positive impact and 10% said they had a negative effect on their visit.
When compared with wind turbines, awareness levels of solar farms in Cornwall were much lower amongst visitors, with just over a third (35%) being aware of them in the county. Of these people again 71% felt ambivalent towards solar farms, 22% were positive and just 7% had a negative response.
Finally, when asked whether the presence of wind and solar farms would affect their decision to visit Cornwall again in the future, 94% replied that it would have no impact. 2% said that they would be less likely to visit, however 4% said that they would be more likely to visit. The study concluded that these people considered Cornwall “to be a more positive place as a result of the presence of renewable energy farms and its support for the environmental causes.”
Following the results of the survey, Community Energy Plus asked sustainable tourism experts, Coast, to add their thoughts. Coast is a social enterprise working to establish responsible tourism whilst providing benefits to the community, environment and economy. The board of directors provided the following comment:
“On the issue of tourism and renewables – particularly wind and solar – we know we face numerous challenges. So this is the moment to bring together our natural, social and intellectual assets to find a solution, in Coast and outside. In Coast we are bound together by shared interests and by the knowledge we have in common, namely:
a) that the emerging extreme climate change is an urgent call to action – only this week the UN Climate Chief has told the coal industry that 70% of the undug coal needs to be left in the ground. So there is a responsibility on us to do our bit in the global race to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050;
b) that our continuing demand for fossil fuel energy has to be minimised, most importantly by a massive reduction in our demand;
c) that reducing demand will not be enough, and that means seeking out the best low carbon technologies we can;
d) and that in doing so we have to pay proper regard to environment, landscape, people, food production and local economies – and, for us, tourism.
The survey commissioned by Good Energy gives us part of an answer – that in general terms people have a strongly favourable view of both wind and solar. That’s a relief. It doesn’t tell us what their view is if they are staying in proximity to a wind or solar farm, so more work needs to be done there.
If we are to reconcile differences over the impacts of renewables we need to be talking, thinking, listening, working to find a way through. That’s the only way we shall do it.”
Dr Tim Jones, Chief Executive of Community Energy Plus, added his comments in support of the survey’s findings.
“The survey contributes to our understanding of the part renewables can play in the local economy. It offers a chance to move the debate forward and ask what opportunities are available for Cornwall to benefit from renewable energy projects. We have the resources and initiative within the county to create a thriving local energy market which draws on vast renewable assets and, through community ownership models, the benefits can be circulated back into our economy. Studies such as this by Good Energy show that as long as the development of wind turbines and solar farms is managed responsibly they can benefit Cornwall alongside a thriving tourism economy.”