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Windwise forum highlights concerns over wind turbines

The group called Windwise Fairhaven, which opposes the installation of two industrial wind turbines (IWTs) on Arsene Street, hosted about 70 people at the VFW on Tuesday, 2/7, for a public information forum. A panel of five faced a largely sympathetic crowd asking questions about noise, infrasound, amplitude modulation and vibrations, and how those things can adversely affect the health of people living next to IWTs.

Moderator Ken Pottel of Fairhaven told the audience they would be allowed to make statements during the question and answer period, some thing that was not allowed at the town-sponsored forum and a point of contention with IWT foes.

Keynote speaker Eleanor Tillinghast, an environmental advocate with Green Berkshires who volunteers with Windwise Mass., said she has been involved in fighting wind projects for seven years. She stressed she has no financial interest in any energy company, and the first project she opposed was two hours from her home, so she was not a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).

“Thank God for NIMBY, because they are the ones who protect the areas that matter most,” said Ms. Tillinghast.

She told the crowd that wind energy is heavily financed by the government, creating powerful forces to make it happen. She outlined Governor Deval Patrick’s goal to have 2,000 megawatts of wind generated power by 2020, which would result in 1333 IWTs, with 1022 on land if Cape Wind is built.

“So this is a massive buildout,” said Ms. Tillinghast.

She said building wind turbines will not replace foreign oil, that more drilling is already happening in the US and only half of 1 percent of energy comes from foreign oil in New England.

“Clearly, foreign oil is not the issue here,” said Ms. Tillinghast.

She also said that building turbines will not reduce electric rates, or create permanent jobs, and will not change consumption habits, which, she said is more important.

Industrial wind turbines “dwarf the landscape,” and in Fairhaven “They will dominate your landscape,” she said.

Ms. Tillinghast also echoed the Windwise claims that IWTs are a public safety threat, and showed a newspaper article about a road being closed when the braking mechanism broke on a turbine and it spun too fast. She showed pictures of turbines that fell or caught fire, stressing that Fairhaven’s Wastewater Treatment Plant and senior center center are close by. She also said that ice throw was dangerous, referring to an article from 2008.

“There are many stories like this,” said Ms. Tillinghast, saying that developers say the instances are rare, but they are not.

She pointed to Altona, NY, where a turbine collapsed. She said it was “shocking,” to see and “these blades are huge.”

Ms. Tillinghast also challenged claims that shadow flicker and noise are mere annoyances, saying they cause serious disruptions in people’s lives.

She also said fires are not as rare as developers say and that property values do suffer around IWTs. She pointed to lawsuits from places around the country near large wind farms from people complaining of noise.

Ms. Tillinghast also took shots at the deal Fairhaven struck with the developer saying costs of oil could go down and then the town would not be saving as much as projected.

Sumul Shah, president of Lumus Construction and Solaya Energy, which will build and operate Fairhaven’s turbines, said the projections were conservative and based on the middle of the range from lowest to highest.

Mark Cool of Falmouth sat on the panel and his wife, Annie Hart Cool, was in the audience. Both told the audience that they were surprised at how loud the turbines were once they actually started spinning. An air traffice controller, Mr. Cool said he was not at his best when he was at work, and therefore, the IWTs in Falmouth put many lives at risk.

Mr. Cool said, however, that not only people in “public safety critical jobs” should be worried. He said to be a good citizen, a person needs “good night’s sleep, each and every night.”

Barry Funfar, also from Falmouth, has complained about severe adverse health effects from IWTs.

He said he and others in his situation have contemplated suicide.

“It really is that bad,” said Mr. Funfar. “It can be that bad.”

Kathy Elder, who lives 1700 feet from Falmouth’s Wind I, which has been shut down because of complaints, was “excited” that Falmouth was going to use wind power, “until the day it got turned on,” she said.

On that day, she got home to find her husband waiting outside for her; she got out of the car and said, “what the bleep is that,” she told the crowd.

When she realized it was the wind turbine she said she realized they had a “tremendous problem” and felt a “sense of betrayal.”

“We are terrible victims here,” she said. “Our lives have been turned upside down.”

She said the noise goes from “mildly annoyung to an assault,” and talked about amplitude modulation, and said she had to take time from work, has ringing in the ears, heart palpitations, stress, tense muscles, etc.

“It’s a violation of our basic rights and destroys our health and the peaceful enjoyment of our property,” said Ms. Elder, adding that it “threatens democracy” and “tears apart every community” where they are put up.

Mr. Shah said the turbines in Falmouth were not the same as the ones in Fairhaven and the conditions were different. He said the Sinovel brand is better.

Ms. Tillinghast countered that all developers say the same thing: “not my turbine.”

Bob Espindola, who is on the Fairhaven Sustainability Committee and also served on the panel, said that the town should pursue solar and not wind. He said it is “not sustainable to put wind turbines close to people.”

Several speakers claimed that those living near IWTs would not be able to get house insurance.

One woman said her kitchen counter vibrates so much that her college-age children cannot use their laptops there, they shut off.

Curt Devlin, a Fairhaven resident who has likened the installation of the turbines to an “ominous human experiment,” said that the long term impact of vibrations could cause serious health issues.

Fairhaven resident Wayne Vieira referred to a Selectboard vote to prohibit a cell tower in Fairhaven.

“It all comes down to money,” said Mr. Vieira.

Speaking of social justice, Louise Barteau said the neighborhood already endures the existence of the wastewater treatment plant and high tension wires.

“These are the people that are going to bear the costs of wind turbines,” said Ms. Barteau, who has an art studio on Arsene Street.

Mr. Shah answered many of the questions, but was chastised for not knowing the exact number of gallons of oil in the turbine. He said he would get the answers to any questions he could not answer that night.

Henry Ferreira railed against the Board of Health, saying they violated state law by not setting aside a special place in Fairhaven for “noisome trades.”

“In my opinion, this makes the contract null and void,” said Mr. Ferreira.

He addressed Mr. Shah directly, asking if it “occurred” to anyone to notify abutters when the land would start being cleared. When Mr. Shah tried to explain his role in the project, Mr. Ferreira interrupted: “you were there,” he said more than once.

Mr. Shah said he has been freely handing out his business cards and, “I’m not running away from anyone.”

“You people are in denial, every one of you,” said Bruce Paparella to Mr. Shah. “You people are disregarding me because I am deaf….I’m going to give myself the privilege of leaving.”

Mr. Shah said he would personally take complaint calls, but that they would also set up a formal complaint process. He said the company would mitigate problems, but he would not agree to shut down the turbines if people complained.