In a time of rising fuel costs, they stand in open fields with blades turning to harvest the wind and turn it into power.
But as wind turbines are built, and proposed, in Central Massachusetts, there is growing opposition from some residents who question their value, and worry about possible ill effects.
As proponents tout turbines as clean energy in a state that has some of the highest power costs in the country, increasingly people who would live near the turbines say they are noisy and may cause medical problems, including insomnia, migraine headaches, mood changes and night terrors.
Those who would like to see them built far away from populated areas say the humming and whirring of the blades of the behemoths would destroy the rural nature of neighborhoods and drive down the resale value of homes. Another issue is flicker – the blades of the turbine passing in front of the sun, which can cause them to be reflected in windows or nearby roads during certain times of the day.
For many people living in Worcester County the most noticeable turbine is the 2-year-old, 262-foot structure that towers over Vernon Hill at Holy Name Central Catholic High School on Granite Street in Worcester. Bolton Street in Worcester is a dead-end street that is separated by woods from the Holy Name turbine, about 500 yards away. Thomas Baker, who lives at 19 Bolton St., and Jesse Haghanizadeh, of 21 Bolton St. said some days they can hear the 75-foot blades of the turbine cutting the air. They said, however, the sound is less noticeable than it was two years ago when the turbine started. They said at this time of the year, when the leaves are off the trees and the sun angle is low, they can see the shadow of the blade in some of their windows early in the morning.
“Actually, I think it’s kind of cool,” Mr. Baker said of the wind turbine.
On the other side of the hill, Josh A. Greska, owner of FinishLine Automotive at 193 Granite St., has an unimpeded view of the turbine. He said many people coming to the business comment on the structure.
“Sometimes you hear a whoosh, whoosh,” the Auburn resident said. “I work here, so I can leave at the end of the day, so I really don’t mind it. If I lived here, well, maybe not so much.”
In recent months, residents in Webster have come out in opposition to a proposed project for 11 wind turbines in neighboring Douglas. Each turbine would be 492 feet tall.
Meanwhile, a proposed two-turbine project on Upton Street in Northbridge was rejected by town officials primarily because the 285-foot machines were taller than the town allows. However, the topic was discussed at length at a recent selectmen’s meeting in which Selectman Thomas J. Melia suggested that 200 people sign a petition that would place a question giving the town ways to regulate turbines on a special town meeting warrant. The town Planning Board is scheduled to talk about the issue at a Dec. 14 meeting, Town Planner R. Gary Bechtholdt said this week.
About 50 people met Friday night at Brimfield Elementary School for a hearing sponsored by a group called No Brimfield Wind to express concerns about a proposed project near Steerage Rock that would contain 8 to 10 wind turbines. Each would be 450 feet. Selectmen this fall voted unanimously not to accept $30,000 from project developer Boston-based First Wind Holdings Inc. that would have been used to study the financial impact of a wind energy facility on West Mountain, near Steerage Rock.
After an hourlong presentation by Wayland environmental and health consultant Kurt Tramposch, No Brimfield Wind spokesman Virginia A. Irvine said a zoning change is needed for turbines to be built. She said based on the nearly 200 people who attended the meeting at which the $30,000 was turned down, the two-thirds majority needed at a town meeting to pass the zoning change could be tough to achieve.
Mrs. Irvine said about 80 families live within three-quarters of a mile of the proposed project.
“That’s too close,” she said.
Mrs. Irvine also said Brimfield residents take pride in the community’s rural character, and turbines that could be seen for miles would destroy that character.
Alice Benoit attended last week’s meeting with her husband, Bruce, and she said they live close to the proposed Brimfield development.
“I think it’s disgusting and it’s based on archaic technology,” Mrs. Benoit said. “The health impacts are a definite issue. West Mountain is a beautiful mountain. Something like this would destroy that.”
Jennifer L. Banks, offshore wind and siting specialist for the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C., said health concerns raised by turbine opponents are not supported by scientific information.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center recently announced grants totaling $1 million for the support of eight wind energy projects under the Commonwealth Wind Community Scale Wind Initiative. Harvard Forest in Petersham was awarded a $43,954 grant through the program that will be used to do a feasibility study for a 900-kilowatt wind turbine expected to take between 12 and 18 months.
“The study, which includes no new construction, is being undertaken as part of Harvard’s commitment to confront the challenge of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Edyth Cherkas Ellin, Harvard Forest director of admissions.
Mr. Tramposch said the state is working to site wind turbines even though research has shown there could be medical concerns. While he acknowledged there is “no smoking-gun report” that he is aware of that being too close to turbines can be unhealthful, he said research shows a strong correlation. He urges people with questions to log on to www.windvigilance.com, where health concerns are discussed.
“The wind industry uses language like no more study necessary, but, in fact, very little actual epidemiology has been done because all levels of government have not required it and certainly have not funded such research,” he said in an email.
“That leaves us with a Vinalhaven (Maine) or Falmouth or Newburyport natural experiment where we have neighborhoods of impacted families who are left having to ‘prove’ their ill effects to local boards, often the same entities that helped site the turbines in the first place.”
Wind turbine developments are being built in those communities, as well as at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, which is about a quarter-mile from Heywood Hospital, something Mr. Tramposch said people should be concerned about. Wind turbines are also planned at the Gardner state prison, and a turbine is running at nearby Narragansett Regional High School in Templeton.
Other communities in Central Massachusetts where turbines are under consideration are Auburn, Sterling and Northboro. John A. Lafleche, business manager of Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School in Charlton, said construction on a $2 million to $2.5 million, 330-foot-high turbine is scheduled to start next October.
Mr. Schulte said the key to siting turbines is locating them in an appropriate area that would affect the smallest number of people.
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