November 13, 2010

Residents brace for second wind turbine

By Patrick Cassidy, Cape Cod Times, 13 November 2010

FALMOUTH – Brian Elder plans to move his bed into the basement of his home on Blacksmith Shop Road.

With noise from the 400-foot wind turbine at the town’s wastewater treatment facility already driving him into the bowels of his home, Elder is driven to distraction by the thought of a second turbine that will be built on the same property by mid-December.

“I’m freaked out,” he said Friday.

Since its dedication in January, the existing turbine known as Wind I has befuddled neighbors, who say they cannot sleep or focus because of sounds coming from the machine. Falmouth officials are awaiting a crane to lift parts for Wind II. The parts were delivered to the wastewater facility a week ago.

The new turbine will be located on the side of the treatment facility closest to Route 28.

Attorney Christopher Senie of Westboro, who was hired by Elder and other residents who live near the wastewater facility, says that neither turbine has a special permit required under the town’s bylaws – an argument town officials dispute.

“They’re not exempt from their own zoning bylaws unless a provision exempts them,” Senie said Wednesday.

The neighbors have asked the town Zoning Board of Appeals to review Falmouth Building Commissioner Eladio Gore’s approval of building permits for the turbines.

Gore did not return telephone messages and an e-mail from the Times seeking comment Friday.

A hearing on the building permits is scheduled for Dec. 2, Senie said. While his clients have a number of issues with the turbines, he is focused on noise-related concerns, he said, adding he has proposed a board of health bylaw related to noise from wind turbines.

Complaints about potential noise from turbines on Cape Cod have become more common as towns and businesses try to defray energy costs by erecting the machines and opponents fight those efforts.

Falmouth acting Town Manager Heather Harper, who spearheaded the installation of Wind I, said Friday that the town is responding to the building permit appeal and is open to suggestions from Senie and his clients.

“I’m not entirely clear as to what the end point will be,” she said. “The clients have different expectations.”

Town officials do not believe the municipal turbines require a special permit because they are considered an accessory use to the town wastewater treatment facility, Harper said.

The town has stopped operating the first turbine whenever wind speeds exceed about 27 mph in response to concerns from neighbors, she said.

Curtailing the existing turbine’s operation will cost about $54,000 a year in unrealized energy savings, she said, adding that putting the wind-speed restriction in place for one year is manageable but the financial gain from the turbine would suffer if the reduced operations continue indefinitely.

A town-commissioned study on noise expected from both turbines found that state Department of Environmental Protection standards would only be exceeded at two homes on the other side of Route 28 when both windmills are operating during limited time periods. The town acknowledges this problem and plans to adjust the turbines’ operations accordingly, Harper said.

Because the second turbine, which has a $4.2 million price tag to plan, buy and install, benefited from federal stimulus funding, the financial impact of reducing its operation would not be as detrimental, she said.

In addition, Harper said having the two turbines gives the town greater flexibility to shut down one of the windmills periodically if necessary.

The town is trying to be responsible in the development of renewable energy resources, she said, adding the concerns of neighbors are being taken seriously. “I’m not surprised that the machine can be heard or that its audible,” Harper said. “There’s no question that it is a very large scale public utility.”

But the degree of the perceived impact on neighbors is a surprise, she said.

The town’s role as a leader in attempts to address climate change through the use of renewable energy inevitably puts it in the forefront of these types of debates, Harper said. “I think we’ll be a model and a resource for other projects,” she said.

The second turbine could go into operation within the next three months, Harper said.

State Secretary of Energy and the Environment Ian Bowles, who grew up in Woods Hole, sees two lessons in the difficulty many Massachusetts communities are experiencing in trying to site wind energy projects.

“It remains challenging to site wind in a state with the third-highest population density in the nation,” he said Friday, adding that many energy consumers remain psychologically unconnected to where they get their power.

Siting of pollution-emitting, fossil-fuel driven power plants has typically occurred in low-income communities, which have been burdened with high rates of pediatric asthma, he said.

“The clean energy landscape is going to look different in the future, and that certainly is going to take some adjustment,” he said.

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