A panel of experts appointed by the state says wind turbines do not pose serious health risks for nearby residents.
But the report issued Tuesday said it’s possible – though not proven – that noise from some wind turbines could cause sleep disruption.
The panel of independent physicians and scientists was formed by the Massachusetts departments of public health and environmental protection last spring. The report found no scientific evidence that low frequency sound from wind turbines affects the inner ear system and balance. It also said the “weight of evidence” didn’t find any links between the turbines and diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure and migraine headaches.
A statewide group called last year for a statewide moratorium on construction of industrial wind turbines until potential health effects were studied.
The Franklin Regional Planning Board called for such a study last month when it commented on the state’s proposed wind siting reform legislation. In letters to legislators and to state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan, the regional board called for the same kind of in-depth study that last year helped clarify whether a sustainable supply exists for wood-burning power plants and whether they would be a carbon-neutral energy source.
The board said conflicting scientific arguments were being presented to town planning boards as they review applications for wind farms and consider windmill bylaws. Hawley has already adopted such bylaws, and Ashfield and now Heath and Shelburne are beginning work on bylaw adoption.
The 164-page study released by the state Tuesday afternoon was written by seven “expert independent panel members,” including University of Massachusetts Wind Energy Center Director James Manwell of Conway.
Among the panel’s key findings of the panel are that:
• There is no evidence for health effects from turbine exposure that could be characterized as a “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”
• There is no apparent association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.
• None of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggests an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease and headaches.
• There is limited epidemiologic evidence suggesting an association between exposure to wind turbines and annoyance. There is insufficient epidemiologic evidence to determine whether there is an association between noise from wind turbines and annoyance independent from the effects of seeing a wind turbine.
• There is limited evidence from epidemiologic studies suggesting an association between noise from wind turbines and sleep disruption.
• Scientific evidence suggests that shadow flicker does not pose a risk for eliciting seizures as a result of photic stimulation. Limited scientific evidence suggests an association between annoyance from shadow flicker over 30 minutes per day and potential transitory cognitive and physical health effects.
Three public hearings, in Boston, Bourne, and Lee, have been scheduled on Feb. 14, 16 and 28, respectively.
Hawley was the first town in Franklin County to develop and pass a wind turbine siting bylaw, in 2005. But several other towns – mostly those which have received wind tower proposals – are looking to develop their own bylaws.
Hawley’s wind turbine bylaw limits the height of the structure to 200 feet. It requires that turbines be at least 1,200 feet away from homes and that it be at least 300 feet away from property boundaries, or at least twice the length of the turbine – whichever distance is greater.
Ashfield began looking into a wind turbine bylaw in 2010, after two turbine proposals were aired. One of them was for an installation of four to eight turbines, at about 400 feet tall, to be located on Ridge Hill. The Selectboard formed a Wind Turbine Siting Bylaw Advisory Committee about two months later, while the town’s Planning Board began working on a turbine bylaw.
The Shelburne Planning Board is just beginning the process of developing a wind turbine bylaw, as is Heath. Last year, Shelburne saw a proposal for an eight-turbine wind facility proposed for Mount Massaemet. That proposal was withdrawn during the Zoning Board of Appeals special permit hearing in November.
Peggy Sloan, director of planning and development for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, said she is working with both Shelburne and Heath, to help those planning boards.
On the Web at: www.mass.gov/dep/energy/wind/panel.htm