HARWICH – A site visit to the Massachusetts Military Reservation in Bourne to observe and learn about the operation of a large scale wind turbine brought a measure of détente between some local residents and town officials on Friday.
The town-sponsored trip provided the opportunity for seven residents who live near proposed sites for two wind turbines and nine local officials to better understand how turbines operate and ways noise and other potential annoyances can be mitigated. But the residents of Headwaters and North Harwich where turbines are proposed were still skeptical of the town plan at the end of their visit.
“I want to sleep at night and I want my property value,” said Maura Toma, whose home would be closest to one of the proposed sites. “I want everything everyone else in the community has.”
“Visibly it was a little smaller than I expected it to be, but visibility is not the concern of the neighbors,” Headwaters resident Noreen Donahue said when leaving the site. “It’s noise and I didn’t learn anything new about the impacts on a neighborhood at 2 and 3 a.m. But I appreciate every bit of information we can get.”
The group was provided access to the site of the 391-foot turbine, which operates approximately 1,200 feet from one neighborhood. The 1.5 mw turbine is similar in size and height to the turbines under consideration in Harwich. Two of the project managers, Rose Forbes, a civilian working for the Air Force, and Jonathan S. Davis, P.E., remediation program manager for the Massachusetts Military Reservation, were there to answer questions.
The turbine was constructed to offset the $2.2 million annual electric cost associated with pumping operations to remediate groundwater pollution at the site. Forbes said the turbine has been in operation since early December and was run at 50 percent capacity for the first month-and-a- half and at full capacity for the next month. It has reduced electrical costs by $100,000.
Forbes said they have not had any complaints from the residents in the neighborhood a quarter mile away. But she pointed out the turbine was not operational in the summer months when windows are open and people are out in the yard. She also said there would be more ambient noise from vehicles, lawn mowers and other activities to mask the noise from the generator during the summer.
Brian Saven of North Harwich brought a decibel reader with him and conducted sound tests showing readings of 78 decibels 1,000 feet from the turbine. State regulations require noise to be no greater than 10 decibels over ambient noise levels. The question is, Saven said, what is the specification for determining ambient noise?
On this day winds were blowing between 20 and 30 miles per hour and the whooshing of blades was most discernable downwind in a neighborhood estimated to be 1,200 feet away.
“Personally, I feel 3,000 feet is still too close,” Headwaters resident Terri Hayden said.
There have been no flicker complaints, Forbes said, but added she had gone into the woods to the north of the turbine and found some flicker. But there is none in the neighborhood to the south.
A concern for ice throw was also raised. Forbes said the turbines have sensors that detect ice buildup and when they register an imbalance the system shuts down. There has not been any problem with ice throw, Forbes said.
“It’s definitely meeting our expectations,” Davis said.
“It’s absolutely a success,” added Forbes.
Forbes told the group the turbine can be programmed to address issues that are raised by the neighbors, adjusting or shutting off under specified conditions.
Planning Board Chairman Matt McCaffery said town officials should explore with the manufacturer ways to calibrate the machine to address the annoyances in neighborhoods.
“That will impact the bottom line,” Toma said.
McCaffery, whose board will be required to issue a special permit for the Harwich turbines, said the board is expressly forbidden from considering economic impacts in its deliberation. He said they should be able to eliminate the detrimental impacts to the neighborhood.
Citing the special permit process, McCaffery said the board should be able to set a limit for noise and adjust the machine so it doesn’t operate in conditions detrimental to the neighborhood. He said the permit would require liability insurance and provisions requiring its removal when operations are discontinued.
“I’m willing to work with people,” Toma said. “I like what McCaffery said. It will be interesting to see if we can come to some sort of compromise that will make everybody happy.”
“I don’t think anyone in the town wants to ruin a neighborhood. This is not an adversarial exercise,” McCaffery added. “We need to have a way to show what 10 decibels above ambient is so people can put headphones on and hear it. People are confused about that.”
“We’re not against green energy, but let’s look at what’s out there before we jump on board with this,” Saven said of the potential for smaller applications of green energy such as photovoltaic panels.
Utilities and Energy Conservation Commission Chairman Barry Worth called the visit a positive experience.
“We’ll find a way to put it in the right place so people can deal with it,” Worth said.
The town is studying locations off Headwaters Drive and on water department land off North Westgate Road to lease to Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative to construct two turbines. Over a 15-year period the town would receive $7.5 million through the leasing of the land to CVEC.
Toma said they would take the information learned from the trip to a meeting of a Headwaters neighborhood association scheduled for last Saturday. Worth’s commission is planning a public forum on the turbines for early April and residents living within a half mile of the proposed sites would get a written invitation to attend.
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