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Listening session on Falmouth wind turbines

The Falmouth Board of Selectmen will hear a series of reports on the town-owned wind turbines from the town’s professional staff, state officials, sound analysis technicians, and the neighbors who live near the turbines on June 6 at the Morse Pond School.

The meeting is intended to help selectmen develop a management strategy for the turbines, although selectmen are not expected to make any decisions at the meeting.

“The first step is to gather information,” said Brent V.W. Putnam, chairman of the board of selectmen. “Obviously with that much information there are going to be questions, and we’re going to have to fill in the blanks.”

Mr. Putnam said the meeting will be held at Morse Pond School to accommodate what is expected to be a large crowd.

“There’s also expected to be some attention from outside Falmouth,” Mr. Putnam said. “This has been splashed across the news, not only across the state but also across the nation.”

Mr. Putnam said he hopes that after all the information is presented selectmen will have enough information to fix the problem.

“The options are, at one end of the spectrum, to operate the turbine at full capacity with no modifications,” he said. “And at the other end of the spectrum, to tear the machines down. Somewhere in the middle there is a happy medium.”

Acting Town Manager Heather B. Harper said the meeting will be to help the board develop an operations plan for the turbines.

The final agenda for the meeting is not yet set, but Ms. Harper said she is working to finalize it with Mr. Putnam, and Nancy Farrell of the public affairs firm Regina Villa Associates of Boston, who will facilitate the meeting.
A sound analysis

State officials from the Department of Environmental Protection, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the regional Green Communities coordinator are planning to attend the meeting.

Officials from the Department of Public Health are also being consulted, Ms. Harper said. There will be a report on the revised sound study by consultant Harris, Miller, Miller & Hanson of Burlington, which is posted on the town website.

The report by acoustical engineer Christopher Menge analyzes the actual sound levels of Wind 1 and computer-generated model of Wind 2, which is not yet operational.

Mr. Menge reported that neither Wind 1 nor Wind 2 alone will increase the quietest background noise level by more than 10 decibels, but together the turbines will likely exceed the level at some homes during the quietest time of night.

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection considers a noise in violation of regulations if it increases the sound level by more than 10 decibels above the ambient sound level.

“The criterion is predicted to be exceeded by the combined operation of Wind 1 and Wind 2 at a small number of receptors during the quietest early morning hours between about midnight and 3 AM, and when the wind speeds are relatively low,” Mr. Menge wrote.

The sound is most noticeable at the nearby residences, he wrote, when the wind speed is low, because the ambient noise level is also much lower, leading to a greater disparity between the two sounds.

In his report, Mr. Menge recommended that to maintain compliance with the standard, one of the two turbines be set to turn on when wind speeds reach eight meters per second during the quietest nighttime hours, or about 18 miles per hour.

Changing the wind speed setting for turning on the turbine is a different strategy for reducing noise. Selectmen voted in February to turn off the wind turbine when wind speeds exceed 10 meters per second, or about 23 miles per hour.

“It makes no difference with regard to the noise criteria which turbine is chosen for this operational curtailment,” he wrote.

In addition to the sound study, Ms. Harper said there will also be reports on the wastewater treatment facility operations by Weston and Sampson, and the Falmouth Planning Board and Falmouth Board of Health will also give reports on turbine issues.
Is a happy medium possible?

A wind turbine critic, Todd A. Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road, has been asked to give a report on his concerns about the town’s sound studies.

“My impression from reading the update to the HMMH sound study is that there do appear to be times when both turbines are running that it will exceed the state limit,” he said.

Mr. Drummey said turning off the wind turbine in high winds has improved his quality of life.

“I can say that the 10-meter-per-second cutoff has made a big difference,” Mr. Drummey said.

Mr. Drummey said the alternative strategy for changing the speed could be a good way to make the turbine more manageable.

“I think one of the central ideas of not just this turbine, but all turbines, is that as the wind speed increases the ambient background level also increases. I think that is incorrect,” he said.

There are times, he said, when the turbine is at full power and there is barely any wind at the ground level, which makes the noise of the turbine seem louder.

There will also be an opportunity for other residents to give reports and speak about the turbines, Ms. Harper said. “We will also reserve up to a half an hour for additional reports by residents,” she said.

Many residents have expressed anger at the town for the lack of action on the issues surrounding wind turbines. Mr. Drummey said that he hopes that the discourse can remain civil at the meeting.

“I’m hoping that this will be a productive meeting,” he said. “I’m always hopeful that people can get their points across in a calm and productive manner.”

Still, he said he can understand the anger and frustration that many residents have expressed, because the turbine issues have been ongoing for more than a year, and residents do not feel their concerns have been heard.

“People are feeling like they are being forced from their homes because they can’t tolerate this,” he said. “People are very upset by it.”
Planning for the future

The Cape Cod Commission is not invited to the meeting, Ms. Harper said.

“This meeting will be to help the Board develop an operations plan for its wind facilities at our Wastewater Treatment Facility. I welcome any input the Commission may have on the operations of our facility. They will, more than likely, be sought as advisors as our Planning Board develops its bylaw,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Ms. Harper said she has been communicating with Alicia Barton McDevitt, deputy commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, to engage other state agencies, including the Department of Public Health.

“Deputy Commissioner McDevitt has communicated that Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is working with their teams involved with air quality, noise and renewable energy and that state agencies are interested serving as resource for Falmouth,” Ms. Harper wrote to selectmen in her report last week.

“The board will not be asked to make any decisions but your staff and consultants will be interested to hear what additional information the Board may need to consider management strategies.”

Asked in an e-mail what the definition of “management strategies” is, and what some examples might be, Ms. Harper wrote, “I have no further comment.”