Health issues, noise, aesthetics and financial questions are among the concerns cited by a group of neighbors organized to oppose plans for a wind turbine in the North Hill area. On Monday, the Board of Selectmen heard presentations from attorney Christopher Senie of Westborough and residents in the newly formed group, Duxbury Wind Wise. Senie explained the hazards of noise from a wind turbine, while Duxbury Wind Wise member Jack Murphy of Hounds Ditch Lane outlined what his group feels are the risks of the potential project.
Duxbury’s Alternative Energy Committee received a grant for a consultant that produced a feasibility study identifying the North Hill area as the best site for a wind turbine to produce electricity. The consultant, Sustainable Energy Developments, Inc. of Ontario, NY, lists three sites in this area as possible locations for a turbine.
Site one is near the 9th hole tee box at the North Hill country club, site two is in a location called Kettle Hole near the North Hill marsh and site three is closer to the Department of Public Works yard and the Mayflower Cemetery. All land is municipal.
The consultant chose these locations after overlaying a wind resource grid on a map of the area to estimate the places with the highest wind speeds. The consultant recommended a pair of turbines, one of which is 26 feet taller than the 250-foot turbine allowed by Duxbury’s wind facilities bylaws. This measurement is from the base to the tip of the rotor blade at its highest point.
The consultant estimated that this turbine will cost $3 to $3.3 million and could save the town a minimum of $135,000 a year. The town could own the turbine or contract out the project and lease the land.
Murphy said Duxbury Wind Wise was a community group made up of citizens who felt there is currently not enough information about the affects of a wind turbine at North Hill to justify moving ahead with the proposal.
‘We are not anti-wind,” said Murphy. “We are for the responsible use of wind energy and town resources. Responsible wind energy does not adversely affect the economic health, public safety, noise levels aesthetics, natural areas and environment of the community. We are requesting that several of these issues be researched and discussed before moving forward.”
In his presentation, Murphy pointed out what his group feels are the many problems with a wind turbine at North Hill. These include a lackluster financial return, noise that can lead to health problems, public safety issues including turbine fires, and negative impacts on the environment and on the aesthetics of the town. He also listed some local towns – many on Cape Cod – that have cancelled or had problems with wind turbines in recent years.
“We think the financials for this project are marginal if not weak,” said Murphy, explaining that his group believes that consultant’s construction and electrical connection costs appear low and that the consultant tailored the financial assumptions to make the project attractive to third party investors.
The energy savings to the town, which Murphy said would be only $135,000 a year, is not enough to make the project worthwhile
Murphy said Duxbury Wind Wise would like a detailed analysis of the project financials before the town commits to moving forward with the turbine project.
Their consultant, Tom Hewson of Energy Ventures Analysis of Arlington, Virginia, analyzed the financials and told Duxbury Wind Wise that he had reviewed six wind developer projects in both Massachusetts and Connecticut this year and he concluded that “this project has the worst fundamentals of them all.” Hewson pointed out that in its report consultant SED is counting on the town allowing a variance of the 250-foot height limit, otherwise, SED states that “there is no currently available wind turbine which would generate significant economic returns for the Town.”
The attorney hired by Duxbury Wind Wise explained that a 276-foot turbine generates a different wind speed between the top and bottom of the rotors and that this is called “amplitude modulated sound pressure.” This is “a thumping noise both heard and not heard,” said Senie. “You can feel the sound pressure. It’s sub-audible.”
Senie said that wind turbines around the world have been cited as having direct health affects on people who live near them.
“Those sound modulations drive some health issues,” said Senie, such as sleep disturbance, headaches, ringing in the ears, ear pressure, dizziness, racing heartbeat and panic episodes, to name a few on his list.
“Every country that has industrial turbines has health complaints,” said Murphy.
Due to these documented health issues, doctors and scientists in many countries have recommended that turbines be located at least 1.25 miles from homes, Murphy said.
Within the 1.25-mile set back from a proposed wind turbine at North Hill are over 800 homes, the school campus on St. George Street and the Town Hall and Senior Center, said Murphy. Streets as varied as Herring Weir Road to Surplus Street and West Street to Washington Street would fall within the set back area of a wind turbine.
Such a large turbine would visually impact Duxbury, said Murphy. A 276-foot wind turbine would be more than two times as tall as the Myles Standish Monument, which measures 130 feet. It would be approximately as tall as a two-story building, he said.
“It will dominate the landscape of Duxbury,” he said.
Fire hazards are also a risk associated with wind turbines, explained Murphy. If a turbine’s brake fails, it can spin freely until it catches fire. This fire often cannot be extinguished because of the height and must burn itself out. If this happens, the fire can spew out toxic fumes and burning debris can fall and catch the surrounding area on fire. Turbine fires and the damage to the surrounding land have been documented across the country, Murphy said.
Installing a wind turbine in the North Hill area can mean clearing as much as seven acres of land and the construction of a road to withstand massive industrial machinery. As North Hill Marsh is a wildlife sanctuary used by the public for its nature walking trails, Murphy’s group questioned the environmental impacts of a turbine on this land.
“All this for $135,000 (in energy savings) a year?” he asked.
MassAudubon owns the North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary that abuts the town land selected for a turbine. In a letter to the Alternative Energy Committee, John Clark of MassAudubon explained that one of the turbine sites is 580-feet from Audubon land and within 200 feet of the portion of the North Hill Marsh pond loop, a hiking trail around the marsh maintained by Audubon and the Duxbury Conservation Commission.
Clark said Audubon believes that the information provided by consultant SED is too preliminary to adequately determine the potential impacts on its property. Audubon recommends that the town conduct bird and bat studies to evaluate potential impacts from the turbine. It also recommends that the town contact the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program to see if there are any rare species in the area because the potential turbine site is located within an area declared a priority habitat under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Finally, Clark noted that Audubon has identified a number of birds in the area that are on the state’s list of “species of conservation concern” including the American Black Duck and Eastern Towhee.
Alternative Energy Committee chairman Jim Goldenberg told selectmen that his committee came to Monday’s meeting to listen to the concerns of residents.
“We are trying to understand the concerns,” said Goldenberg. “The only way a wind turbine is going to move into the town of Duxbury is with community involvement. We are not interested in pushing a wind turbine on the town if it is not wanted.”
The Alternative Energy Committee meets on November 22 to discuss what the next phase of the potential wind turbine project would be including funding additional studies.
After listening to the Duxbury Wind Wise presentation, two of the three selectmen indicated they were not in favor of the wind turbine proposed for North Hill.
“It would take a lot of convincing for me to even consider putting up a 250-foot turbine anywhere in Duxbury,” said Selectman Ted Flynn. “This is fraught with dangers. I think it is appropriate for a community to say we’ve looked at this and it’s not appropriate for Duxbury and we’re dropping this.”
“I don’t want to be a part of something that benefits the town at the expense of one particular neighborhood,” said Selectman Chris Donato.
Selectmen Chairman Shawn Dahlen took a more moderate view. He asked residents to let the committee continue its work and gather and dissect more information.
“It’s important that we listen and then make a decision,” Dahlen said.
Both the Alternative Energy Committee and Duxbury Wind Wise have websites for more information.
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