FALMOUTH – When Kathy Reed learned about a proposal to erect a 400-foot-tall wind turbine near her Marion home, she was open to the idea.
But after a visit to Falmouth’s 1.65-megawatt turbine off Blacksmith Shop Road, Reed quickly made up her mind.
“I could not live with (the turbine). Absolutely could not,” Reed said. “The prevailing noise was like a jet engine and behind that was this ‘thump.’ It’s so noisy and I wouldn’t want to live like that.”
As more communities consider wind turbines as alternative energy sources, residents of those towns are visiting Falmouth to find out what to expect.
Mark and Annie Hart Cool said their phone hasn’t stopped ringing.
The Cools, who live 1,600 feet from Falmouth’s Wind I turbine on Firetower Road, have become quasi-celebrities among wind opponents. They’ve hosted people from Brewster, Bourne, Wareham, Plymouth, Marion and even Connecticut at their home.
When asked, the Cools also speak at turbine hearings in nearby towns to tell their story.
“We’re the poster children now,” Annie Hart Cool said. “We believe it’s our duty to go out there and let people know what the facts are.”
But wind advocates like Greg O’Brien of the Stony Brook Group, a communications strategy company in Brewster, think those looking to Falmouth should also consider turbines in other towns where there are no complaints.
O’Brien, who is a communications consultant for numerous inland turbines, including a postponed project in Bourne, said it is incumbent upon town officials to ignore outside political pressure and lobbies who “clearly stand to lose from the successful implementation of wind energy.”
“It is my hope that local boards and regulatory agencies stick to the facts,” O’Brien said. “If a small group of individuals is violently opposed to something and therefore it must be denied, there will never be another school, police station, fire station or hospital ever built in America because those are all built near residential areas.”
Many neighbors of Wind I also have been very active in campaigning against turbines in other towns.
A handful of Falmouth residents attended a hearing in Brewster about installing two 400-foot-tall turbines, a proposal that has yet to win approval.
The plan to build seven even larger turbines in Bourne was recently withdrawn as well, although the developers said they will likely refile soon.
Jamie Sloniecki, a Bourne selectmen, voted against recommending the project for aesthetic and health reasons. His October visit to Falmouth’s Wind I played a large part in his decision, he said.
“The neighbors said they can’t sleep, they’re on medication, they can’t sell their homes,” Sloniecki said. “It’s heartbreaking and it gave me a lot of information on how it disrupts the quality of peoples’ lives.”
Even people outside the state’s borders are taking notice of Falmouth.
The issues regarding the town’s turbine were singled out in a Dec. 15, 2010, letter from former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in reference to erecting two 1.6-megawatt turbines in Prospect, Conn.
“The Falmouth experience demonstrates that large wind turbines may have an impact if sited close to residential properties. I would support legislation to establish standards for the siting of wind turbines,” Blumenthal wrote.
The presence of Falmouth residents at preliminary turbine meetings in other towns has been “very effective” as a deterrent, said Liz Argo, founder of the Cape and Islands Wind Information Network.
The Brewster project was much better suited for turbines and the technology is much better than Falmouth’s older turbine models, Argo said. Yet Falmouth residents were “extremely active in thwarting the Brewster proposal,” she said.
“Has Falmouth created a ripple effect? You better believe it,” Argo said. “But the campaign against Brewster based on Falmouth is apples and oranges and it’s throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
Others believe the willingness of Falmouth neighbors to make their struggle public and help educate residents of other towns has been invaluable, said Timothy Reilly, a resident of Prospect, Conn.
Reilly has visited Wind I twice – once with his father and again in November with a group of Prospect residents, including the mayor. He spent time at the homes of those most affected and called the noise from the turbine “ungodly.”
He has formed close friendships with several of the affected neighbors in Falmouth, he said. He is even chartering a bus to take them to Connecticut later this month to testify in front of the Connecticut Siting Council, which oversees placement of turbine.
“I feel bad asking them to come but they’re heroic for volunteering,” Reilly said. “Even though they’ve lost they want to help other people win.”
Neil Andersen, who lives less than 1,500 feet from Wind I and publicly has stated he has considered suicide because of the noise, said helping others avoid the same fate is one of the only things that keeps him going.
“It helps me to fight these things,” he said. “We’ll do what we have to do so bring it on. Whatever it takes.”
A recent vote by Falmouth selectmen resulted in a partial shutdown of the turbine when winds hit 23 mph. The results, according to the Cools and Andersen, have been very positive. But shutting down the $5.1 million turbine translates into an annual revenue loss of $173,000, according to Gerald Potamis, wastewater superintendent.
It’s the siting, not the turbine itself, that is flawed, said Mark Cool. He hopes town officials and residents across the commonwealth continue to embrace clean energy, with the caveat that wind turbines must be “conscientiously scrutinized” in order to succeed.
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