March 9, 2011

What standard should be used for Bourne turbine setbacks?

By Paul Gately, Bourne Courier, 9 March 2011

BUZZARDS BAY -The Bourne Board of Health Wednesday night sought new information about the acoustical impacts of turbines, hoping for insight as it writes a regulation that would govern review into public health and environmental issues related to the structures.

“We’d like brief factual statements we haven’t heard before,” health board chairman Kathy Peterson told the crowded hearing room at Town Hall. “We don’t want to be here until midnight. There will be other opportunities for comment about turbines. We’re interested tonight in health and nuisance effects.”

The resulting comments were neither brief, for the most part, nor factual. The session quickly deteriorated into dueling science between Dr. Robert J. McCunney, an occupational health expert and professor, and Kurt Tramposch, an environmental planner from Wayland.

Tramposch said turbine noise essentially is “a confounding activity, an annoyance in the sense that over time it leads to illness.”

McCunney said “designated setbacks from turbines might not be the appropriate metric to measure the noise factor. Why are people annoyed by turbines? Studies conclude that an adverse attitude to turbines play a role as well as the perceived lack of economic benefit from them.”

Bourne Energy Coordinator Richard Elrick said it is “an unrealistic wish” in the realm of alternative energy quests “to not see turbines or hear them. Don’t place such restrictive limits on any technology that evolves,” he told the health board. “Turbines can be sited in appropriate fashion.

“You should focus on an acoustic setback standard, not an arbitrary distance standard to judge ultimate noise factors,” he said. “Beware studies that are not credible. Unnecessary and unreliably strict standards won’t help renewable energy.

Tudor Ingersoll of Buzzards Bay, a principal of New Generation Wind that proposes a seven-turbine wind farm off Scenic Highway and Route 25, said Massachusetts enjoys a 15-year cumulative experience with the operation of commercial turbines.

“These turbines operate within 1,000 to 1,100 feet of people living near them with no complaints. How can you have so many people living happily without any difficulty?” he said. “Think about it. Every damn one of those turbines is noisier than turbines produced today because the blade design has improved a hell of a lot.”

Diane Tillotson, Ingersoll’s attorney, advised the health board that any guidelines members might wish to write into a turbine control regulation about structural setbacks “should be in planning board review.”

Selectman Jamie Sloniecki said he remains opposed to the New Generation Wind proposal and turbines anywhere in town planned next to residential areas.

“I guess all this depends on what you want to believe,” he told the health board about conflicting scientific studies and claims. “It seems to me that 490-foot turbines will send the noise out farther than what we have at MassMaritime. And the infrasound issue; is it there or is it not? It depends on what side of the issue you’re on. Do your own research. Whatever you do will be permanent I’m hoping for a happy medium in the end; I’m leaning toward farther away.”

The health board will return to the turbine-regulation writing effort April 13 when it will ask the public for input about the flicker factor.

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