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Study funded by foe says wind turbines to hurt Cape tourism

Survey also sees house price dip

The ambitious wind energy project proposed for Nantucket Sound would cost Cape Cod's economy at least $64 million a year and 1,300 jobs as the long string of wind turbines across the horizon discourages some tourists from vacationing there, according to a new study from Suffolk University. In addition, the researchers projected that property values in the six towns nearest the project site would see a 4 percent drop in real estate value.

The study, largely funded by a family strongly opposed to the $700 million Cape Wind project, is the first attempt to assess the impact on tourism and property values from installing up to 130 wind turbines that would be visible from the shoreline in Osterville and other locations.

Only about 3 percent of 497 tourists surveyed by researchers at Suffolk's Beacon Hill Institute said the wind turbines would affect future vacation plans. But researchers' projections suggest that's enough to cut tourist spending by $64 million to $134 million a year. "There are enough tourists who would go to Maine or whatever that it would have an appreciable effect on the tourist economy," said Jonathan Haughton, an environmental economist at the institute.

However, other studies of wind projects have generally found no damage to tourism from wind turbines. In fact, towns in Denmark that host offshore wind farms have set up visitors' centers to accommodate tourists who come to see the towering structures against the skyline. A federally funded study by the Renewable Energy Policy Project found no drop in property values near wind projects in the United States in a review of 25,000 real estate transactions.

Officials from Cape Wind Associates said that the study used too small a sample to be reliable and that it failed to take account of the 150 permanent jobs and hundreds more construction jobs that would be created by their project. Haughton argued that Cape Wind can't be compared to other projects, both because it is so large and because it is the first offshore wind project in the United States. "We sensed that . . . if it were a question of 20 or 30 windmills out in Nantucket Sound, people would not be nearly so concerned," he said. "The sense of the infinite horizon will be lost."

Beacon Hill Institute officials acknowledged that most of the $100,000 study was paid for by the Egan Family Foundation, whose members include strong public opponents of the project.

Michael Egan, one of the foundation's trustees, owns property in Osterville that would look out on the turbines. But Egan said the institute came to him with the idea for the study and carried it out with no input from his family.

The Beacon Hill Institute study was released in an important week for the project, as the US Army Corps of Engineers tells Cape Wind officials how much work will have to be done for the plan to win approval.

Yesterday, Corps of Engineers officials said they would require a detailed analysis of six alternative sites, including one on land at the Massachusetts Military Reservation, as well as a site near New Bedford Harbor and a site farther offshore, where the waves and wind tend to be stronger.

Scott Allen can be reached at allen@globe.com.

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