MONHEGAN PLANTATION — Visitors to Monhegan island are usually the ones asking the questions. Which way to the Monhegan House? Where is the nearest bathroom? Where can I get a cup of coffee?

But this past summer, some 180 visitors were asked their views on the issue that has dominated island debate for the last year-plus: the proposed floating wind turbines. That project is on hold, if not in limbo, given the University of Maine’s failure to win a hoped-for $47 million Department of Energy grant. UMaine did land $3 million to continue design work.

Among the findings in the survey were that more than half did not know about the wind power proposal, and 70 percent said if built, the project would neither detract from nor enhance their visit. A strong majority—88 percent—said turbines would not change the number of visits they would make to the picturesque island.

The survey, conducted by a team led by Caroline Noblet, an assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Economics, was less about the hot-button wind project and more about “how people react to scientific information in decision making,” Noblet said in an email. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

A static picture and a virtual reality model, which showed the turbines turning and through which participants could view them from different perspectives, were developed. The virtual reality version was shown through a computer tablet with the visitor also using headphones to hear the simulated sound. Participants were asked to view either the picture or the virtual reality version. Noblet said the researchers are still analyzing how the responses broke down.

“We wanted to see if more advanced virtual reality scenarios were used by people differently in thinking about the proposal,” she noted.

But beyond the role such technology had on people forming opinions, important data about the island’s tourism-based economy was compiled.


In all, 180 visitors participated in the survey. The average age was 50, with an even split between men and women. Eighty percent held a college degree and annual household income was about $100,000.

Given choices for their reasons to visit the island, topping the list were:

At the bottom of the list was bird/wildlife watching (39 percent).

About 40 percent identified themselves as day-trippers, and 30 percent said they visit the island once or twice a year for multi-night stays. Couples estimated they spend about $300 per day on the island.

Though the wind project, which would have begun with two floating test turbines a few miles off the island, has been a high-profile story in Maine, 58 percent of survey participants were not aware of the project, perhaps a reflection of the number of visitors from out of state or away from the coast.

On the general issue of wind turbines, 78 percent of respondents said they should be located “away from special scenic scenes.” Sixty-six percent agreed they should be sited “far out to sea” and 63 percent agreed they should be in “remote rural areas.”

After seeing the visuals, nearly half (48 percent) said they didn’t have enough information to evaluate the impact of the turbines on the island; 45 percent said they felt “a lot of uncertainty” about the impact; and about a third were concerned about the impact on peace and quiet (36 percent) and spoiling “the look” of the island (30 percent). A quarter worried about the impact turbines would have on recreation, yet 17 percent said they would appeal to visitors.

Only 7 percent said they would avoid the island if turbines were nearby.