Wind farms do not discourage holidaymakers, according to new research which “puts to bed the myth” that the sight of turbines on the horizon damages tourism.
A report by economic consultants said the onshore wind industry in Scotland had expanded dramatically in recent years, from 2 gigawatts of capacity in 2009 to 4.9GW in 2014. Over a similar period, the number of jobs in “sustainable” tourism had grown by more than 10 per cent.
But, while this suggested that both sectors could “co-exist and grow”, they decided to look more closely at the local effects of the construction of a new wind farm on 18 different places across Scotland.
And they found that in 15 of the 18 locations, sustainable tourism employment had increased by more than the Scottish average despite the appearance of turbines.
They also pointed to a survey of 380 tourists in Caithness and Sutherland, Stirling, Perth and Kinross, the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway by Glasgow Caledonian University.
Of those, 75 per cent felt wind farms had a positive or neutral effect on the landscape. Just four people, two per cent of those who had seen turbines, said it would affect their decision to visit the area again: two said they would be less likely to return, while the other two were more keen to come back.
The report’s author, Graeme Blackett, director of Biggar Economics, said: “Both renewable energy and tourism have been identified by the Scottish Government as key growth sectors, and therefore it is important to identify if there are any detrimental effects to one from the development of the other.
“What this study shows is that there is no relationship between the growth in the onshore wind sector and growth in the tourism sector.
“While this is just one piece of research, it is the first that has looked systematically at the situation before and after wind farms have been developed, and it clearly demonstrates that renewable energy and tourism can co-exist in a modern Scotland.”
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, there were 211,215 jobs in sustainable tourism in Scotland in 2013. Government figures showed renewable energy supported 21,000 jobs in Scotland, 5,400 of which were in onshore wind, in the same year.
Lang Banks, director of environmental campaign group WWF Scotland, said: “Hopefully this latest research will finally put to bed the myth that wind farms have a negative impact on tourism jobs.
“In fact, the reality is that in some cases wind farms have themselves become tourist attractions.
“Over the past decade, Scotland’s growth in renewables has created thousands of new jobs. And, to ensure we continue to reap the many benefits of a low carbon economy the Scottish Government’s forthcoming energy strategy should set a goal of securing half of all of our energy, across electricity, heat and transport, from renewables by 2030.”
Lindsay Roberts, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “This research joins the growing body of evidence that clearly shows there is no negative impact on the tourism industry from the development of onshore wind.
“In fact, the study found that employment in tourism in the majority of areas immediately surrounding wind farms grew faster than in the wider local authority areas where they were situated.
“Last year Scottish Renewables found that more than 13,000 miles had been covered by runners and cyclists alone on infrastructure tracks installed for wind farms and hydropower schemes.
“Today’s new figures demonstrate once again that the well-documented economic and environmental benefits of green energy go hand in hand with significant social benefits.”