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Fairhaven flap typifies wind farm obstacles

You don’t have to propose a 130-turbine wind farm in the middle of Nantucket Sound to cause a controversy.

In Fairhaven, two proposed turbines behind the town’s wastewater treatment plant have earned the wrath of a vocal group of residents who say the whirring blades will be too noisy and cast flickering shadows on homes during sunsets.

On Tuesday, residents in the seaside town 55 miles south of Boston voted 141-98 in favor of the turbines, but opponents promised to continue fighting the project.

As more than 40 Massachusetts communities explore the possibility of erecting one or two turbines, the debate in Fairhaven is providing a glimpse into the opposition even small-scale wind farm projects can face.

“The major obstacle to any wind development always is siting,” said Chris Kealey, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative , which has pledged more than $4 million to help communities explore building wind turbines. “Land is at a premium in Massachusetts – we don’t have big swaths like Texas or California to put these projects where people don’t see them.”

The projects are minuscule compared with the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, or others with more than 10 turbines that have been proposed from central Maine to the Berkshires. Those projects have been met with powerful opposition by people who say they will destroy pristine views. Last week, the state ruled that a hotly debated 20-turbine project in the Berkshires violated state wetland rules.

Once, state and local officials believed community wind projects would be universally embraced by residents as a progressive way to offset the cost of electricity while providing a visible symbol of clean power. And in some communities, such as Hull, which has two wind turbines operating and is working to place more offshore, wind power has been widely accepted.

But turbines are growing taller – Fairhaven’s proposed turbines measure about 400 feet each from base to highest blade tip – and more common in the state. As a result, the projects are meeting resistance from residents who find them unattractive or noisy.

In Fairhaven, the opposition group WindWise Fairhaven says it would support wind turbines if they were set farther back from homes. The turbines are proposed to be about 800 feet from the nearest home; the group wants them at least 1,200 feet away.

The project developer, James P. Sweeney of CCI Energy LLC in Plymouth, says it is impossible to build farther away from homes. The group says it also worries about noise from the whirring blades and a phenomenon they call “flicker” – the strobe-like pattern the turning blades make on homes when the sun is setting behind the turbine.

“Really, our biggest concern is proximity to homes,” said John Methia, who lives about 2,200 feet from a proposed site.

The group plans to ask the state to develop strict rules for how far from houses turbines can be built as other wind community projects go forward.

Fairhaven town officials stressed that the project, which would be built on town land but run by the private developer, is still in its initial stages and needs local and state permits. The town vote was necessary, they said, to allow them to enter into a long-term contract. The town’s board of selectmen endorsed the project, saying it will bring the community more than $3 million over 20 years.

“For the people of Fairhaven this is a first step . . . changing global warming begins with the first step,” said Brian Bowcock, a town selectman. “We think it’s the right thing.”

By Beth Daley
Globe Staff

boston.com

21 May 2007