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Wind committee advises caution; Most of the group opposes turbines

LENOX – The town committee studying a potential municipal wind-turbine installation on Lenox Mountain is flashing some red lights about the project as it completes its final recommendation to the Selectmen.

Reflecting agreement among seven of the eight members, the Wind Energy Research panelists studying the impact on health, ecology and town finances have prepared mostly critical draft reports challenging the feasibility of the proposal.

Among members studying health impacts, one panelist was opposed to moving ahead and the other recommended continued planning along with further studies of sound levels and with success requiring agreement by Lenox and Richmond residents that the project would be beneficial.

In 10 meetings starting on Oct. 31, the committee moved from dissension and occasional displays of raw emotion to a spirit of cooperation.

More than 40 Lenox and Richmond opponents of the turbines attended Thursday night’s presentation of the study groups’ reports.

Town government has been exploring the project after a consultant, Weston Solutions of Concord, N.H., deemed the mountaintop site “viable.”

“Given the likely poor financial performance of the project and the associated risks and uncertainties, the Financial Subgroup does not recommend going forward” with the project, according to the final draft report read by panelist Joanne Magee, an opponent who compiled it with Eric Vincelette, a member of the Lenox
Finance Committee who has previously supported wind power if it could save money for the town.

The report stated that the ” project’s benefits must outweigh impacts, risks and uncertainties.”

It concluded that town ownership of the turbines could cause a loss of “several million dollars or more.”

If the town leased the project from a developer, it would yield only a “small to negative financial benefit,” based on the full 20- year cost of the turbine installation.

The financial study also cited potential loss of control over the Lenox Mountain watershed, and it challenged the findings of the Weston report.

The detailed presentation explored the amount of wind energy that the project could produce, as well as its development, engineering, construction, operational and maintenance costs. By all measures, the two panelists concluded, the proposal came up short on revenue but long on expenses.

The study challenged potential electricity-cost savings for the town buildings that would be powered by the turbines, citing ” cheap and abundant natural gas” as well as legislative and regulatory changes that would cap the project’s financial viability.

As for the health impact, separate reports with differing conclusions were prepared by Dr. Michael Kaplan, an advocate of wind energy, and Christopher Magee, an MIT professor and project opponent.

Basing his report largely on the recent state study by experts that was commissioned by the Department of Environmental Protection, Kaplan acknowledged ” limited evidence” of sleep disturbance caused by noise affecting residents a halfmile or less from major windturbine installations.

Expressing his own opinion, Kaplan contended that the Lenox Mountain site is “protected by geography and distant enough from most homes that health effects from noise are unlikely.” He suggested that financial compensation might be considered for residents who lose property value because of potential impacts.

“I believe this wind-turbine project should continue as planned, as it would not likely harm the health of nearby residents,” Kaplan declared, adding that further study on potential sound levels at nearby homes would be required.

“Both Lenox and Richmond residents would need to find benefit from a communityowned wind project for it to succeed,” he added. “If residents are not engaged by staterecommended strategies – education, incentives, compensation and setback guidelines – Richmond and Lenox residents are not likely to agree to put a wind turbine within a mile of homes.”

Magee’s report, as read by alternate panelist Jim Harwood, focused on the possible effect of low-frequency vibration on sleep disturbance but acknowledged that any connection is speculative. Magee listed 70 research papers, especially recent studies, reflecting a split between advocates and opponents on how noise impacts should be studied.

“There is significant risk that at least some if not many of the residents living within a mile of the potential Lenox Mountain site would suffer from sleep disturbance,” he concluded.