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Assessing Social Values Relative to Offshore Wind Energy Areas in North & South Carolina

This project began in October 2015 and was completed in August 2019

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM’s) Office of Renewable Energy Programs oversees development of offshore renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). BOEM identified wind energy areas (WEAs) on the OCS of North Carolina, and was in the process of locating WEAs in South Carolina. To inform management, NCCOS assessed the values and activities of coastal residents to characterize and monitor the complex interactions between society, the environment, and energy development projects.

Why We Care
Outside of official public engagement forums, preferences about offshore wind energy development generally remain unknown for members of the public. Few studies focus on the importance of environmental values and place-based attachment in mediating community support for, or opposition to, offshore wind energy development. This research offers an approach for understanding what is important to communities, and how differing values and perceptions across communities can influence local receptiveness to proposed development.

What We Did
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) oversees the development of renewable energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf. In response to BOEM’s interest, we studied the perceptions of coastal residents in North and South Carolina regarding offshore wind energy development in their area. We documented the importance of local context by studying the influence of residents’ attachment to place, their perception of impacts, and the role of distance (residents to shore) on their support or opposition to proposed local offshore wind energy development. We identified factors predictive of residents’ 1) support level for offshore wind energy and 2) intention to engage in civic action to advance their position.

This study focused on a portion of the Carolina coast, spanning the coastal region of southern North Carolina and northern South Carolina, where BOEM was at varying stages of proposing offshore areas for wind energy development. The study region included residents within 20 miles of the coast in Brunswick, Columbus, Pender, and New Hanover Counties in North Carolina, and Horry County in South Carolina.

Researchers conducted a randomly sampled household mail-based survey (2018) in the coastal region described above. Residents 18 years of age and older were surveyed on their level of support for offshore wind development, past and future action, attachment to place, recreational activities, favorite places, and awareness level. They were also asked about the impacts such development could have on important quality of life items.

This project was a collaborative effort between NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), BOEM's Office of Renewable Energy Programs (OREP), and NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM).

What We Found
Statistical modeling suggests that low awareness of local offshore wind energy development and high uncertainty of impacts from such development are predictive of support. While residents from households located closer to the shoreline are more likely to be opposed to local offshore wind energy development, more residents are supportive than opposed in this region of the coastal Carolinas. Unexpectedly, daytime views of the ocean does not predict support level. Perceived importance of marine mammal and sea turtle habitat drives opposition, while electricity affordability drives support for local offshore wind energy development. Results also suggest that residents living further inland from the shoreline are less likely to intend future action related to offshore wind energy development than residents living closer to the shoreline.

Residents who are opposed to local development efforts are most likely to intend future wind action, while those reporting a neutral position are least likely. However, the influence of support level on intention to act is affected by place attachment. Residents with a greater place attachment are more likely to intend future action, especially if they are opposed. Finally, more past action related to the potential for offshore wind energy development is a predictor of future action, but those who strongly support local efforts are less likely to intend future wind action.

Benefits of Our Work
This study provides BOEM and NOAA with an enhanced understanding of the relationship between the use of marine space, the type and intensity of place-based attachments, and the likelihood of local engagement in social action to support or oppose renewable energy projects.

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