There are some who view the town-owned wind turbines subjectively, whether pro or con. But others, such as John Carlton-Foss of Church Street, Woods Hole, are trying to do so objectively. Dr. Carlton-Foss acted on this goal by embarking on a two-year research project aimed at “understanding how people were reacting to the sound of a turbine.” That initial turbine was not found in Falmouth, but toward the entrance to the Cape at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay. He then expanded his research to Hull before adding Falmouth, simply because it was close. “It was a very pragmatic decision about where to go and when,” he said.
Over the two years he has interviewed roughly 30 people, first beginning with a questionnaire to obtain qualitative data, before refining those questions to turn that information into quantitative data. “I walked into it with no preconceived notions. I was just interested in it to understand,” he said, noting that part of that interest lies in his background in psychology. His turbine research was aimed at determining “what was really happening for people near turbines.”
While he is approaching this research objectively, Dr. Carlton-Foss admitted there are those who believe “I’m beholden to the wind industry.” That reputation is due, in part, with his affiliation with Strategic Energy Systems, or SES, a renewable energy consulting and engineering firm, of which he is CEO.
Dr. Carlton-Foss has long been intrigued by alternative energy. When he was at graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he and four colleagues conducted a study of these types of technology, focusing on solar, “although there was some awareness of wind,” he said. He also played a key role in defining the standards for indoor air quality as defined by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers in the 1980s.
And a little over a decade ago, he was heavily involved in climate change issues at the state level before eventually founding SES in 2002. “Certainly, I’m involved with it [wind energy], but I’m also very supportive of the neighbors and listened very carefully about what they have said and helped them in what they have said in developing arguments to understand what is going on with the Falmouth wind turbine,” he said. As proof, he referenced a less formal paper he completed last fall related to wind turbines that he submitted to the Cape Cod Commission during a hearing on the proposed wind turbine project that would bring seven 492-foot-tall wind turbines on 373 acres in Bournedale.
That paper, titled “Person-Centered Evaluation of Noise Problem in Neighborhood of Wind Turbine,” analyzes the situation of those living in close proximity to the 1.65-megawatt wind turbine at the Wastewater Treatment Facility in Falmouth. “Although there exist some plausibility [sic] arguments in support of neighbor complaints, these are not entirely persuasive because it is not possible without further study to eliminate the hypothesis that the complaints were fabricated or at least exaggerated,” Dr. Carlton-Foss writes in the document.
He would later expand upon this in a recent interview to stress that some of the claims that the turbine sounds like a jet engine “is an exaggeration… There are no jet engines in anybody’s driveway.” While neighborhood complaints could be questioned, according to Dr. Carlton-Foss’ paper, so, too, can the town’s noise study completed by Harris Miller Miller and Hanson last September. “The study was flawed most seriously in the time of year that it was performed, and in that the 10-minute sampling granularity was not small enough to properly characterize the offending sound,” he wrote.
Among the other complaints Dr Carlton-Foss has of the town’s noise study are the locations where sound samples were taken as well as the attention paid to pure tones while ignoring various octave levels of noise, or specifically low-frequency sound levels. The report also provides several recommendations, which include calling for the reform of acceptable sound regulations that utilize a different analytical system than one based on decibels. He suggested those regulations take into account the lower part of the sound spectrum. Additionally, he called for regulations that did not set requirements for impacted properties being a specific distance from where a turbine, or other noise generator, is located “as long as that property is sufficiently nearby to have a credible complaint,” he wrote. And he also suggested that methods be created to validate the veracity of neighborhood complaints to wind turbine sounds.
Overall, Dr. Carlton-Foss said the report was neither anti-wind nor anti-neighbor. In fact, he said, “I presented a lot of arguments that were very favorable to the neighbors.” With his latest effort, he has gone so far as to sleep in a tent outside the Wastewater Treatment Facility in July, not so much to benefit the research, but to understand what neighbors may be experiencing.
It was a suggestion made by a state official who told him that “one of the things he does whenever he is working with a noise complaint is to go there and sleep overnight,” Dr. Carlton-Foss said. “It took me nine months, but I finally did it…I wanted to know, even for me, whether it would damage me to sleep under the turbine, so it took me a while to muster up some courage. I did it and was okay afterward.”
Among his goals were to see whether he could fall asleep and determine how difficult it would be to do so. He was able to fall asleep and according to an e-mail it took “unusually long” for him to fall asleep, based upon a number of factors, which included the fact that “I was seeking to put myself in the neighbors’ shoes.”
Overall, he said, it was an interesting experience that provided him some insights although it was done for personal interest rather than scientific. Still it had value on his research, noting that “if you are gathering data, you want to know what those loud noises people are referring to, so you don’t get fooled.”
As for the current research, he said, it is close to being finished, with the goal of submitting it for publication. He was cautious about releasing the results, preferring to wait until the work is complete. But he believes it would be valuable as part of the larger discussion surrounding the turbine issue in Falmouth. And he was hopeful, given funding, he could continue the research related to the turbine noise and its impact on the neighborhood.
He hinted that this is needed, in part, because it is apparent that the town and the neighborhood are still miles apart from reaching a resolution. “The situation is not ready for mediation,” he said. “If you have one side that feels they have won or one side feels like they are in an extremely strong position, then they are not ready for a compromise or to work things out. And then mediation is not going to work. That is the current situation.”