Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals discussed denying the J.K. Scanlan Company application to build a new wind turbine in Falmouth Technology Park last night, citing concerns about the turbine fall zone, light flicker effect, and the cumulative noise effect of other wind turbines in the area. In the end, the board decided to continue the hearing until March 3 and to allow more information to be submitted.
Last night, the board heard new testimony from the applicant and abutters of the town-owned wind turbine at the wastewater treatment plant off Blacksmith Shop Road and the Notus Clean Energy turbine, also in Falmouth Technology Park.
J.K. Scanlan proposes to build a 179-foot-tall turbine off Research Road, the only light industrial B-zoned land in Falmouth. It would be 240 feet from the nearest building, other than the Scanlan building, and 1,310 feet from the nearest residence on Thomas B. Landers Road. The proposed turbine is a 225-kilowatt Aeronautica turbine, an American-made product, and it will be 131 feet high at the hub of the tower with three 48 foot turbine blades.
Board members said they had serious concerns about the turbine fall zone, which extends over the Scanlan property line. Chairman Matthew J. McNamara said he was particularly concerned that the turbine would land on other properties on Research Road, including an access road, which might be needed in an emergency.
“The fall zone is there for a reason,” Mr. McNamara said. “One of these could fall over.”
He cited Danish studies about metal fatigue in wind turbines. The life span of this particular turbine is about 20 years, and Mr. McNamara said there are no assurances that the steel in the wind turbine’s monopole could not fail in that time.
Mr. McNamara asked if Scanlan could reduce the size of the turbine, so that the fall zone would not go over the property line.
“I don’t think so,” said Robert H. Ament, the attorney representing Scanlan.
“Is that your final answer?” asked Mr. McNamara.
After consulting with his client, Mr. Ament said. “No, we can’t meet that.”
Mr. Ament then argued that the turbine meets the town’s wind turbine zoning bylaw requirements about the fall zone.
“You keep saying that it meets the zoning bylaw but it doesn’t,” Mr. McNamara said. He read aloud the portion of the wind turbine zoning bylaw that states the fall zone must be drawn “completely within the petitioner’s land.”
Mr. Ament argued that elsewhere in the town code it states that the board can bypass that requirement on light industrial-zoned land.
Mr. McNamara said there might be no point in continuing the hearing if the fall zone requirements could not be met. He asked board members if they wanted to move forward with denying the application.
Board member Kenneth H. Foreman said if the board were to deny the application, it should have solid and well thought out reasons.
“We don’t want to be hasty in denying this,” he said.
“I’m not trying to influence anyone, but this is the elephant in the room,” Mr. McNamara said.
The board also heard testimony about light flicker effect. The Scanlan turbine could potentially create a light flicker effect on two residences, Mr. Ament said. He said one residence would experience the flicker effect for a total of two hours and 50 minutes in an entire year, and the second house would experience the flicker effect for less than two hours in a year. Mr. Ament said the light flicker effect from the Scanlan turbine would occur for seven weeks in the winter for a few minutes each day.
But he also said the homeowners might not experience the light flicker effect from the Scanlan wind turbine at all, Mr. Ament said, because the light will be blocked by trees and leaves and future buildings.
But J. Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive testified that the town-owned wind turbine casts a flickering shadow on his windows in the morning, which, he said, turns his living room into a disco. “I play ‘Dancing Queen’ in the morning just to try and make light of it,” he said. The flicker effect started three or four months ago and lasts for about 40 minutes each morning, between 7:50 and 8:30, he said.
Board members asked if the light flicker effect could be mitigated by shutting down the turbine each morning and evening, so neighbors would not experience it. Mr. Ament said it would make sense to do that only if there was a problem. The problem could also be mitigated by planting trees or buying blinds for neighbors.
Project manager Greg W. Inman said it would take about 20 minutes to shut down the turbine and start it back up again. “It’s not like flicking a light switch,” he said.
Mr. Ament also presented new testimony about how much noise the turbine would produce. He said using the quietest possible ambient noise readings, the turbine would raise the ambient noise level at the nearest residence by 7.8 decibels. In comparison, the Notus Clean Energy turbine, also in Falmouth Technology Park is permitted to create a maximum of six decibels at the nearest home.
The noise level at the hub of the turbine was calculated at 101 decibels, Mr. Ament said, which decreases to 55 decibels at the property line.
The town bylaw states that a turbine should not create noise in excess of 40 decibels at the property line. Mr. Ament argued that the bylaw means the property line of the nearest residence, but Mr. McNamara said he interpreted it to mean the property line of the owner of the wind turbine.
“This machine in this location does not exceed excessive noise,” Mr. Ament said.
A group of neighbors of the town-owned wind turbine who have been vocal opponents of the turbine also spoke.
Colin P. Murphy of Blacksmith Shop Road said noise from the existing turbines would be exacerbated by adding another turbine. What was once a quiet neighborhood gets louder and louder, raising the ambient noise. Each turbine adds to the cumulative noise, he said. “We lose our ambient,” he said. “All of a sudden the ambient is a freeway.”
Mark J. Cool of Fire Tower Road said the turbine should be shut down whenever there was icing forecasted, because of concerns about ice throw and propeller throw.
Todd A. Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road said there had been so much new information submitted to the file just two days ago that he would like more time to review it.
Board member Ronald H. Erickson said he had done some research on his own about the existing turbines. He said he spoke to an employee at the Social Security Administration building in Falmouth Technology Park and asked if the turbine bothered him.
“I told him to ask around to the other employees, and if it annoys anyone to tell me,” Mr. Erickson said. “I haven’t heard anything.”
Other board members reacted to Mr. Erickson’s statement. Board member Dennis D. Murphy covered his mouth and whispered to Mr. Erickson several times after his statement and then raised his hands in an “I give up” gesture.
Mr. McNamara also spoke to Mr. Erickson during a five-minute break after the hearing was continued.
Mr. McNamara did not allow testimony from Neil M. Good from Mashpee, because he is not a Falmouth resident.
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