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Time permits little comment on proposed wind turbine

FALMOUTH – The selectmen’s meeting room at town hall was nearly filled last night with supporters and opponents of a proposed wind turbine in the Falmouth Technology Park, but all but a few residents of both camps will have to wait until June for the chance to voice their opinions.

Webb Research is applying for a special permit from the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals to construct a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine on its property in the technology park. Robert H. Ament, the attorney representing the applicant, called last night’s public hearing a “historic occasion.”

Mr. Ament and Daniel H. Webb, president of Webb Research and Notus Clean Energy, which will install the turbine, both touted the technology park as an ideal location for the turbine because of its “remoteness,” with the nearest home one-third of a mile away, and the high elevation of the Webb property. Both also referred to the town’s plan to construct a turbine near the wastewater treatment plant, saying that the park is an appropriate location for turbines.

The proposed base of the turbine has a 15-foot diameter. It is 262 feet high to its “hub,” and the blade is another 126 feet, making the entire structure 388 feet.

“This is a big machine, there’s no denying that,” Mr. Webb said, adding that it is still 100 feet shorter than the radio tower in Teaticket.

Residents who live nearby the park on Blacksmith Shop Road, however, disagreed about the appropriateness of the location, and called on representatives of the project to decrease the size of the turbine, with one calling it “excessive.”

Mr. Webb said that a survey done by a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst of setbacks for turbines around the world found that the most stringent requirement, in Denmark, was still less than the proposed setback for this project.

“I have never heard that air was a significant buffer to anything,” said Blacksmith Shop Road resident John J. Ford.

Colin P. Murphy, of Blacksmith Shop Road, also objected to the size of the proposed turbine, saying said that the large size is not necessary because 75 percent of the profits will be sold anyway, referring to Mr. Webb’s statement that the company will use about 25 percent of the turbine’s energy output and sell the rest into the grid.

“He wants to coat his pockets and he wants to go home,” Mr. Murphy said, adding that he thinks allowing the turbine would set a precedent for other turbines to be built in the park. “You don’t think everyone else in the tech park is going to do it?”

In response to residents’ concerns over noise generated by turbines, Mr. Ament cited a noise study conducted by the firm Epsilon Associates that said the projected noise from the turbine would, even under the worst circumstances, be barely audible at the closest residence. He also cited a letter from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy that states they have had no complaints of noise from their wind turbine.

Neighbors, however, questioned the noise study and were in agreement that because the noise study was computer-generated, it should not be the only determination of sound impact.

“I don’t believe this noise study is telling us anything,” agreed Loretta O’Brien of Blacksmith Shop Road.

Mr. Ford said that while proponents of the project have cited positive research from the National Wind Coordination Committee on the small number of birds killed each year by turbines, they did not cite the committee’s statements that turbines can generate “disturbing” noise and its recommendation that turbines be installed no closer than a half-mile of the nearest home.

During a visit to the turbine at Mass Maritime Academy, Mr. Ford said that when he stood underneath the turbine there was little noise, however, about a half-mile away he could hear the “deep, pulsating, sweeping sound” made by the blades.

The low-frequency sounds that turbines have been alleged to make, he said, can cause headaches, migraines, heart palpitations, and sleep disorders. “Notus places commercial profit over human welfare,” Mr. Ford said.

While there were a number of people in the crowd in support of the project, none of them had the opportunity to speak because the hearing was continued due to a time restraint of the meeting.

There were 23 letters of support submitted to the board, as well as a petition of support signed by 35 people, said zoning board clerk Patricia A. Favulli.

The public hearing will continue June 12 at 6:30 PM.

By Martha V. Scanlon

The Enterprise

18 April 2008