In April of this year Stephen E. Ambrose, an acoustical consultant from Windham, Maine, drove down to Falmouth in his Toyota Camry.
The license plate, which reads “BE QUIET,” was perhaps the first sign that he was sympathetic to the plight of abutters living next to the town-owned wind turbines at the Wastewater Treatment Facility.
But that is even more apparent in a study of a nearby turbine in Falmouth Technology Park owned by Notus Clean Energy that Mr. Ambrose released with Robert W. Rand, also of Maine, two weeks ago.
In that document the pair detail the same symptoms they experienced that have been reported by several of the neighbors of Wind 1, the 1.65-megawatt turbine that became operational in March of last year. “Within twenty minutes of being inside their house, while setting up our instruments, each of us started to lose our initial enthusiasm and actually started to feel less well. As time went on, we got progressively worse. We each experienced unpleasant symptoms of motion sickness, including ear pressure, headache, nausea, dizziness, vertigo, especially when moving about,” the report reads.
The two remained in Falmouth, at an undisclosed home of an abutter to the Notus turbine, for three days. Their goal was to investigate infrasonic and low-frequency noise emissions.
The study, titled “The Bruce McPherson Infrasound and Low Frequency Noise Study,” was privately funded by Mr. McPherson, a former Hyannis resident who died last March.
As to Mr. McPherson’s role in the study, attorney Christopher G. Senie of Westboro provided some additional background.
“Mr. McPherson approached me at a Cape Cod Commission meeting I guess about a year ago and indicated to me he was interested in trying to figure out why it was Falmouth residents were having such distress so he offered to finance a study to look further into it,” Mr. Senie said.
Mr. Senie currently represents six residents in a companion case to Neil P. and Elizabeth L. Andersen’s lawsuit against the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision that upheld Building Commissioner Eladio R. Gore’s ruling that the town did not need a special permit to build Wind 1.
He also has represented neighbors during the town’s study of the turbine’s noise impacts last year.
Mr. Senie stressed that “Mr. McPherson didn’t exercise any influence over the study. He passed away long before it was completed or a draft of it was available.”
“I think he spent time pondering the question of whether turbines could be designed differently to eliminate problems,” Mr. Senie continued. “He was certainly concerned about the Cape community, which he loved, and this study seemed important to him.”
The responsibility of conducting the study fell into the hands of Mr. Ambrose and Mr. Rand, who collectively have 66 years of experience working in the field of acoustics. For the last two years, Mr. Rand said, they have been investigating noise generated from wind turbines.
“We approach noise problems from the point of view of the neighbor.” Mr. Rand said. “It is the best way to understand complaints.”
Originally the goal was to study Wind 1, but after selectmen voted to curtail the operation of that turbine when wind speeds reach roughly 23 miles per hour, the choice was made to investigate the Notus machine. “It is an identical make and model to tbe Wind 1 and Wind 2 turbines owned by the town,” Mr. Rand pointed out.
The study focused on low-frequency noise, something the researchers noted in their report is overlooked because local and stale regulations focus on “A-weighted sound level measurements” which essentially eliminates acoustic signals below 20 Hertz where infrasound’ is located in the acoustic frequency spectrum.”
Additionally, the pair noted that the A-weighted sound level was not the best measurement for determining problems indoors where abutters were complainjng more about discomfort.
Results sbowed that “the house envelope blocked most of the frequency content above l0 Hz, and amplified the remaining low-frequency pulsations, much like a drum.”
While the study’s focus was on low frequency, much of it details the health impacts the two felt from being exposed to the turbine.
A chart, listing the daily wind speeds, also includes the symptoms the two experienced. On the first day. for example, when wind gusts were between 25 and 35 miles per hour. the researchers felt everything from nausea to dizziness to the inability to concentrate. It is noted that the two “felt miserable” and “performed tasks at a reduced pace.”
Mr. Rand said he and Mr. Ambrose felt those symptoms for several weeks after. “I did seek medical treatment for that,” he said. “I obtained an eyeglass prescription. I wear them all the time. I never wore eyeglasses before this study.”
Both he and Mr. Ambrose “were caught by surprise” with how severely they were impacted, Mr, Rand said. “We were unprepared and unable to take measurements,” he said, noting that “we were able to pull ourselves together after the wind subsided… This has never happened to me at any period of my career, but this is the first time we measured wind turbines indoors.”
The report does not claim the turbine caused the physiological symptoms the pair experienced, but does say “there were strong correlations established.”
As to how much weight this study will hold in the town’s ultimate decision on what to do with its wind turbines is unclear.
Mr. Senie admitted it is another tool, adding to the body of science that “lends credibility to the concern when you put a large-blade wind turbine in close proximity to homes.”
While Town Manager Julian M. Suso has yet to review the report, Selec[men Kevin E. Murphy and David Braga have. Mr. Murphy was cautious about relying on this report solely, saying that “every bit of information will be part of the solution to the problem.”
Mr. Braga, however, believed that the study simply raises more questions about the turbines and their impacts. About a year ago he recalled spending the night near the turbine to see how serious the problem was. “It sounded like someone was putting sneakers in a dryer,” he said. “If that’s what the people are living with, it is no wonder they are complaining.”
Before the board rushes to action Chairman Mary (Pat) Flynn argued that its approach has to be well thought out and deliberate. Currently town officials are seeking public input on four consultants who will be responsible for facilitating a consensus-building approach on how to mitigate the impacts of the wind turbine.
Additionally, Falmouth has shut down Wind 1, and once Wind 2 comes online, the town will study that for one month before curtailing its operation to shut down at wind speeds of roughly 23 miles per hour.
Ms. Flynn said it would be unfair for the board to base its decisions on a study like this. “This was only three days,” she pointed out. “You have to do far more than gather data for three days… We have to be as neutral as possible when we look at the facts, take it in and not let our emotions affect our judgement.”