FALL RIVER – Residents living right next to Bristol Community College complained of potential noise and other negative effects from a proposed 334-foot wind turbine that would be built at the northern end of the campus at a public forum Tuesday night.
The turbine, to be built just to the north of a small pond close to Route 24, would reduce the college’s environmental footprint and save a projected $250,000 a year for the school, including the production of energy that would be sold back into the electric grid. But a group of neighbors said it could also harm their way of life and hurt their home values.
“How are we going to benefit?” asked James Holeva of Valentine Street. He wasn’t opposed to the project outright, he said, but didn’t like the idea of noise and visual blight. He repeatedly asked college officials and others to convince him the project would be good for him and other neighbors, not just a feel-good project.
“We’re all for renewable energy, but you’re putting it in our neighborhood,” another neighbor said.
When the talk turned to benefits, supporters talked about the greater good the turbine would bring: clean energy, an example of environmental friendliness, and a way to reduce the college’s energy bill.
BCC has already started moving toward zero impact on the environment, as it committed to do by 2020 as part of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which President Jack Sbrega signed in 2003. The school has installed solar panels on the roof of three of its buildings, banned inefficient incandescent light bulbs, instituted a policy against vehicles idling, and reduced its water consumption by one-third.
None of its previous efforts have come with any public backlash like the proposed wind turbine. Only about a handful of residents out of a crowd of around 30 were outwardly opposed to the project, and despite repeated attempts by project officials or supporters to convince them of the turbine’s benefits to the general public, they didn’t budge.
“What you get out of it is the benefit we’re giving to the community,” Sbrega said.
BCC had already anticipated some complaints about noise. The college will shut down the turbine at night if the wind speed and direction would make noise too loud for neighbors. The type of turbine, with no gear box, was chosen because it is quieter than other models.
Tests showed that most of the time, noise from the turbine would be no louder than background noise generated by the college, Route 24 and other sources, planners said. What was called a worst-case scenario for noise, the closest homes, in a development called College Heights, would experience 42 decibels of noise. That noise compares to a typical urban neighborhood at night, according to a chart provided by a consultant for the project.
Jonathan Markey, a project manager, called those noise estimates “the very worst-case scenario you can imagine.”
The turbine will be roughly the same height as the turbine built in 2009 at Portsmouth High School in Rhode Island. The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is planning to build a 243-foot turbine this fall between the center of campus and Cedar Dell Pond.
The site for the BCC turbine at the northern edge of campus was chosen because a large area within the college property was needed surrounding the tower. A test tower was built at the south end of campus, but planners said a turbine couldn’t be built there because property lines were too close.
The project still requires permitting, and BCC said it could take up to a year to manufacture and install after a bidding process begins this fall. The $2.7 million cost will be covered by grants and private funding, BCC said.
Information on the project, including a feasibility analysis and mitigation study, is available at the college’s website at: www.bristolcc.edu/wind.
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