Residents respond to Mass. DEP independent panel report on potential health effects of wind turbines
SHELBURNE – Release of the new Mass. Department of Environmental Protection-commissioned “Wind Turbine Health Impact Study: Report of the Independent Expert Panel” saying that wind turbines do not pose serious health risks for those living near them brought swift criticism here from opponents to wind farms.
“The state’s health study is going to face a lot of scrutiny, as it should,” said Lamia Holland of Shelburne Falls on the Buckland side of the Deerfield River.
“In the meantime, while some of us are taking sides on the issue, we seem to be forgetting why these wind farms have been proposed by the state in the first place, which is to reduce our CO2 emissions. The fact is that there is not one scientist, business man, politician or PhD who can tell you that industrial wind has reduced our Co2 emissions or helped us become less dependent on fossil fuels.
“Millions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars are funding these projects, while conservation is one-third the cost of new energy production, produces as many or more jobs, and is better for all of the rest of us including the environment,” Holland continued. “We can do better than destroy our rural landscapes and our neighborhoods for almost no benefit, except to those in the wind industry.”
“We knew from the beginning that DEP’s report would be politically motivated with a predetermined outcome,” said Eleanor Tillinghast, steering committee member of Windwise-Massachusetts, posting on the group’s Web site. “This whitewash is no surprise.”
Windwise is now calling “for an immediate epidemiological study on the effects of living near wind turbines” and charges that “the DEP and DPH [Department of Public Health] have failed the people of Massachusetts with the inadequate study that they released …”
The DEP-appointed “independent panel of experts” noted among key findings that there is no evidence of adverse health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”
The report also says that there is no evidence between turbine noise and mental health issues or psychological distress and that none of the “limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggests association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, and headache/migraine” and that the “flicker effect” poses no risk to prompt seizures.
It concludes that that “limited epidemiologic evidence” suggests an association between exposure to turbines and annoyance, noting “insufficient evidence to determine whether there is an association between noise from wind turbines and annoyance independent from the effects of seeing a wind turbine and vice-versa” and that “limited evidence from epidemiologic studies” may connect turbine noise and sleep disruption.
Planners debate options
The wind turbine issue has been blowing through West County for several years now. Among other towns, Heath, Savoy, Hawley and Ashfield have been approached by those wishing to erect turbines. Ashfield is currently at work to develop a wind turbine siting bylaw. Charlemont planners ultimately approved a one-turbine project at Berkshire East in 2009.
Shelburne Planning Board members are currently in the process of debating a wind turbine bylaw change and/or a wind turbine moratorium. They were scheduled to meet Wednesday, Jan. 25 after press time.
“I have not read the entire report yet, it’s been a busy week,” said Planning Board Chair Matthew Marchese Tuesday. “I hope to read it before we meet tomorrow night; myself and the board, we’ll read it and I don’t know if it will help us formulate a bylaw or not. I just don’t know.”
“As the Planning Board moves forward and considers its options in terms of writing separate by laws for wind in Shelburne, those of us in Buckland will be concerned-because of the effects on any bylaw on our town,” Holland said. “There are a lot of good reasons to say ‘no’ to such projects, and few good reasons to say ‘yes.’ Looking at the big picture, we know that there are better options that are becoming available in terms of very deep energy efficiency. That’s our best and most important first option to exhaust before spending our money on new energy projects, especially when there is currently excess energy capacity on the New England grid.”
Holland also said that she and others are “curious why, for two meetings in a row, the Shelburne Planning Board is having presentations by the Patrick Administration’s agencies who are promoting wind development in the state. Last time it was the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. This time it’s someone from the Green Communities Program. We would have to assume that they are going to try to influence the town to do what’s best for getting wind sited more easily in Shelburne.”
A “declaration of war”?
Andrew Wells chairs Ashfield’s Wind Turbine Siting Bylaw Advisory Committee.
“I think the best practices recommended in that document have no scientific support. . .and would lead to predictable adverse consequences to people, who live locally,” he said, noting that the report recommends a higher noise standard be accepted across the state, that of 44 decibels at wind speeds of eight meters per second in sparsely populated areas and six meters per second in densely populated areas – the equivalent of about quadruple the current rate noted by studies here, including one at his own home.
Wells noted that on page 16, the report acknowledges the potential for “severe annoyance” at sound levels of 42 decibels; seeming to contradict the recommendation elsewhere in the report.
“Also, why would you recommend greater noise in quieter areas?”
Wells said that an acoustic study in Ashfield’s Ridge Hill area – where a turbine siting has been requested and near his home – showed average noise, readings in the mid-20 decibels and as low as 19.
“This report is essentially a declaration of war, on western Massachusetts, there’s no other way to spin it,” Wells said. “I think there’s an assumption that there’s only a few people who know things. I also think common sense has been thrown out the window.”
He added that those living near turbines who have complained of ill effects should have at least been interviewed and their symptoms given some credibility.
He also noted that he once owned a house on the Cape, where wind turbines were requested to be sited 700 feet from his home.
“They ran into so much trouble on the Cape,” Wells said. “People got wise to what was going on in town after town after town.”
Wells also places some of the onus for misbegotten information and recommendations in the report on the UMass Wind Energy Center and Director James Manwell, who served on the independent panel.
“At times, the UMass. Wind Energy Center has been almost completely funded by the state,” said Wells, noting that Manwell also supported the Falmouth wind project. “I think it’s important that it be understood that this report is his work and his association should be duly noted. By their own admission, the DEP says only two people on that panel had wind turbine experience [several physicians also served on the board in addition to those from the scientific community] and it’s not clear that the second person had any experience siting turbines, so if not, you have to believe the recommendations came from Manwell. And this panel only met three times.”
Three public meetings to discuss the state findings will be held in February as part of a 60-day comment period. The full report can be read at wwwmass.gowdep/energwwind/panel.htm. A public comment period is open until Monday, March 19 at 5p.m. Electronic comments can be submitted to WindTurbineDocket.MassDEP@MassMail.State.MA.US. Written comments can be submitted to: MassDEP Wind Turbine Docket, One Winter Street, Fourth Floor, Boston, MA 02108.
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