If the town-owned turbines cannot be made quiet enough, one option is to purchase and re-sell neighbors’ houses. That was an option the Wind Turbine Options Process group discussed on Wednesday.
The group has been discussing a number of options, including changing the hours of operation of the turbines and adding insulation to houses to reduce noise. But how much quieter the turbines would have to be in order to be acceptable to neighbors was a major question of the night. When town assessor David Bailey asked what the level of acceptable noise is for neighbors, Todd A. Drummey said there is a big difference between reducing the sound just enough to meet state standards of 10 decibels more than the background noise and reducing the noise enough for neighbors to enjoy their properties. “Isn’t that the key to everything?” Mr. Bailey asked. There has to be a goal for noise levels, he said.
Judith Fenwick suggested they qualify different levels of reduced noise as good, better, or best. “The most important question is for the neighbors,” Anastasia K. Karplus said. “Would meeting the DEP standards solve the problem?” Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection found that Wind 1 exceeded the 10 decibel noise threshold at one home on Blacksmith Shop Road at night. Since that time the turbines have been turned off between 7 PM and 7 AM. Some options would reduce the noise from turbines so they would comply with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection regulations. “No,” neighbors at the table said simultaneously. Mr. Drummey said if the turbines were reduced by about six decibels, it would solve the problem at his house, but not for his neighbors who live closer. “It sounds like the noise threshold is zero,” Ms. Karplus said. She suggested the town offer to pay for upgrades to insulation, windows and air conditioning in the houses and purchase people’s homes in the most extreme cases.
The turbines would then run as close to full power as possible to pay for those improvements. Curtailments are not a good long-term solution because it reduces the power output and revenue, but does not solve the neighbors’ problems, Ms. Karplus said.
Kathleen Elder of Blacksmith Shop Road said she is coping pretty well in the current conditions with the turbines off at night. If something else was done to reduce the sound further, “I might be able to stay in my house,” she said. Solving the noise problem inside does not address the neighbors enjoyment of their homes outside, Mr. Drummey said.
Ms. Karplus said the neighbors could decide if the mitigation efforts were enough to solve their problems, or move. “Is it sleep or is it life?” Ms. Karplus asked. “That’s not a nice choice,” Mr. Drummey said. Upgrading the houses would cost about $40,000 per house, according to a fact sheet compiled by the group, and purchasing homes and reselling them would result in about a $50,000 loss per home.
There are 28 houses that are affected in the area. A professional arbitrator could be hired by the town to deal with each individual claim, said facilitator Stacie N. Smith, similar to how funds were paid out to the victims of the September 11 attacks and the gulf oil spill. Falmouth Geographic Information Systems coordinator Robert Shea said the town should offer to purchase the houses within a quarter-mile of the two turbines.
Of the 28 complaints on file, seven are from residents living within a quarter-mile of the town turbines out of a total of 18 houses in the area. Additional houses might be purchased, but the homeowners would have to apply, Mr. Shea said. There 12 affected houses between a quarter and half mile from the turbines, out of 166 houses in that area.
There are an additional nine properties outside of a half-mile with complaints. If all the affected people wanted to sell their houses, it would have consequences on the housing market, Mr. Bailey said. There are normally three or four houses sold in that area in a year, he said. There could be a perception that it was a deserted toxic neighborhood, Ms. Fenwick said.
Another option discussed was dismantling the turbines and building a photovoltaic solar array to supply the same amount of energy, but the group did not have time to fully explore that package. Dismantling the turbines and reselling them would cost $14.09 million, once debts, loans and grants are repaid, according to the group’s fact sheet.
The group has asked selectmen and the town manager to investigate whether some of the money from grants and loans may be forgiven by the state. It may also ask the state for money to pay for mitigation options at some point in the future. Mr. Bailey said the town could put some pressure on the state to help pay, because Falmouth purchased two turbines from the state that were in storage. “The town did a great favor to the state to take the turbines for this experiment,” he said. “And the experiment isn’t working out that well for the town.”
Having missed a deadline for November Annual Town Meeting, the group is now planning to complete its work by December 1 and present options at Spring Town Meeting. The group will meet again Wednesday at 6:30 PM at Gus Canty Community
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