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Neighbors of proposed turbine cite health concerns

Opponents of the new school project warned on Town Meeting floor last Saturday that residents were being taxed to the breaking point. The opponents of the proposed municipal wind turbine, however, didn’t seem to have received that memo, as several people said they’d be willing to lose the potential $150,000 a year in energy savings if it means no windmill in their neighborhood.

Lack of information on health dangers posed by wind power was another sticking point during a contentious and well-attended public hearing helmed by the Alternative Energy Committee at the Senior Center last Tuesday.

“Is $100,000 worth a child’s life?” asked one man.

“There’s not a single piece of peer reviews science on planet earth that suggests there’s any negative health effects connected with wind turbine,” replied Kevin Schulte of Sustainable Energy Developments, the consultant working with the town.

The Alternative Energy Committee stressed that this was early on in the process – the first official presentation of the newly-completed feasibility study done by SED.

Schulte and Matt Vanderbrook presented highlights from the study, which looked at potential sites for a wind turbine. The company focused on a large area stretching from the DPW up to and including the North Hill Golf Course, looking at municipally-owned property. (A recently approved town bylaw opened the door for municipal wind turbines only, windmills at private homes are still prohibited.)

Vanderbrook said his team identified three sites, and while each had advantages and disadvantages, none had any “fatal flaws.”

The first site is directly adjacent to the North Hill Golf Course. Because it’s on the course itself, it’s easily accessed and has good wind conditions, according to computer modeling done by SED.

However, Emmett Sheehan, who recently took over management at the town-owned, nine-hole course, isn’t in favor of the project.

“Aesthetically, it’s a big loser … it’s just not a good thing. It doesn’t work,” saying that it would disturb wildlife. “I believe we’re taking one of our most pristine, quiet areas … and putting a wind tower up there.”

The other two sites are in more wooded areas, away from the course and the Hounds Ditch Lane neighborhood. However, they would likely cost more money in setup costs because of tree clearing and the need for a longer access road.

“You don’t know what you’re going to get in to back there,” Vanderbrook said.

SED also looked at two different types of turbines – the more powerful and taller one violates the height requirement in the current wind bylaw. That would have to be changed or a variance granted in order to build such a tower.

The presentation also went through a number of different economic models and projections – from the town directly owning and operating the turbine, to a lease agreement or a PPA, an additional type of third- party agreement.’

In some projections, the project was paid off within eight years, saving the town around $150,000 in energy costs per year.

“From our experience this is a very strong project,” said Vanderbrook. “Having a payback period of under 10 years is very good.”

Almost all of the nearly 50 people attending the meeting, however, were skeptical of the project.

Caroline Mullins of Hounds Ditch Lane said she was concerned that the negative health impacts of a turbine hadn’t been fully studied.

“We don’t want to be the guinea pigs,” she said.

Another neighbor pointed out there is a Statehouse bill in the pipeline that would study any potential health impacts of wind power, saying that there is still uncertainty.

Jim Savicki, a Sustainable Duxbury member, said much of the fear of negative health effects from wind power comes from the book “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” by Dr. Nina Pierpont. Pierpont, a New York pediatrician and wife of an anti-wind power activist, claims that low frequency noise and “infrasound” from wind turbines disturbs the body’s organs of balance, motion and position sense, according to her Web site. However, her work has been widely discredited by the scientific community – with some pointing out she didn’t even examine the subjects she claimed were made ill by the turbine, nor examine their medical records.

“When I started reading the book I was embarrassed that I had paid for it. It’s not good science,” Savicki said.

Wayne Clough of Fox Run credited the Alternative Energy Committee for being thorough (he was involved in fighting a turbine in Wellfleet and said that project suffered from poor planning). However, he said there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the project.

“You have to be thinking about what’s going to happen with the home values,” he said.

Other Hounds Ditch Lane residents said their neighborhood was one of the quietest in town, and even low noise from a turbine would be disruptive. Another skeptic said a turbine on the golf course would be like “putting an oil derrick up in Duxbury Bay.”

Jack Murphy said he was concerned the wind analysis was done with computer modeling, and asked if that would scare off a third-party vendor.

“I don’t know a third party that would get involved in this without putting a MET mast [temporary wind measuring tower] up,” Murphy said.

Schulte said that in projects involving smaller turbines like the ones proposed for Duxbury, it’s fairly typical not to use a MET tower. He didn’t believe it would hurt the project’s chances for financing.

Alternative Energy Committee Jim Goldenberg thanks residents for their input and stressed that it was still early in the process. However, the board does have one decision to make relatively quickly – the warrant for the 2012 annual Town Meeting closes Dec. 6. If the town wants to fund the project themselves, there’s no way they’d be able to put anything together before 2013, Schulte said. However, the town risks losing out on grant money from the state if they wait too long. There was some discussion about asking for design money only in 2012– or an article similar to what passed at last Saturday’s special Town Meeting, simply authorizing the town manager to enter into a third party agreement with an outside company. Some committee members pointed out this could be used as a referendum on the project itself – if voters don’t approve it, it’s a message not to proceed with the project, and no money has been spent.

“If a wind turbine happens in Duxbury it’s going to be a community decision, it’s not going to be an Alternative Energy Committee decision,” said Goldenberg. “It’s not a decision we’re trying to make here, we’re trying to gather information.”

More information on the committee and the full feasibility study is available on duxburywind.com.