FALMOUTH – A new state study has found that Falmouth’s Wind 1 turbine exceeds noise levels appropriate for residential neighborhoods.
The Department of Environmental Protection announced its findings Tuesday after monitoring sound from five different locations near the turbine on four different nights in March, said DEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell.
“The bottom line is that at one of the residences the noise exceeded” the state-mandated threshold of 10 decibels above ambient sound, Kimmell said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “The data indicated that the noise level is too high at night.”
In light of the study, Falmouth’s selectmen agreed to completely shut off Wind 1 for 30 days while DEP officials test the turbine’s decibel level during the day, said Selectman Brent Putnam. Wind 1 is one of two town-owned 1.65-megawatt turbines located at the wastewater treatment facility on Blacksmith Shop Road.
Falmouth officials requested that the DEP conduct the study in September, amid continued complaints from nearby residents, some of whom said the swooshing noise sometimes kept them awake at night.
DEP officials and Todd Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road sampled the sound for two to three hours beginning around midnight each of the four nights they gathered data, according to the study.
They first shut the turbine down and measured the ambient noise levels at each location, and then noted the decibel level with the turbine on. Weather conditions varied on each of the four nights DEP officials conducted the study.
Sound exceeded the 10 decibels above ambient noise threshold at 211 Blacksmith Shop Road on all four nights of sampling, according to the study.
State law limits turbine noise to 10 decibels above ambient noise in an area. For example, on the study’s first night, ambient noise at 211 Blacksmith Shop Road was measured at 29 decibels. The sound from the turbine reached just under 41 decibels, which meant the sound was about 2 decibels higher than was allowed.
“I’m glad that the results of DEP’s study will provide residents affected by Wind 1 with some relief. This is an issue that has divided the community,” said state Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, in a statement Tuesday. “As I’ve said in the past, I believe that industrial-size wind turbines do not belong in residential neighborhoods, but we should not remove wind energy from the renewable energy mix in Massachusetts.”
The DEP findings indicate that Wind 1 cannot spin at night unless the town takes action to alleviate the noise levels heard by neighbors, Kimmell said. It’s up to the town to figure out a suitable method to reduce the noise, he added.
Test results came just over a week after selectmen voted to curtail the turbine’s nighttime operation. In a May 7 meeting, the board decided the turbine would only spin from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.
The same day, the board of health scheduled a public hearing for May 24, where members will listen to abutters’ comments about alleged health effects. A board of health member last week said the hearing is part of an effort to gauge whether the turbines should be shut down.
Town officials and residents also began a consensus building process to come up with a solution palatable to abutters, town officials and other stakeholders. The Consensus Building Institute – a Cambridge-based firm that Falmouth hired to mediate talks – is scheduled to begin nominating people to serve on a committee responsible for making recommendations to selectmen.
The results did not surprise Drummey, who presented his findings at town meeting last month. “I’m hoping that the town will look at that (study) and realize that we have to sit down and figure out basically where to move these things,” he said Tuesday.
Malcolm Donald, another outspoken opponent of Falmouth’s Wind 1 and Wind 2 turbines, said the town should now make a greater effort in reaching out to the state for help in finding solutions to problems the turbines pose.
“The next step is they (town officials) ought to contact Therese Murray and see what she can do for us,” Donald said Tuesday.
Town officials should have given greater credence to the complaints that neighbors made long before the study, said resident Robert P. Volosevich.
“It was faulty from the start, and they wouldn’t listen to the residents,” he said Tuesday. “Someone needs to put their foot down and say, ‘Turn it off now.'”
Falmouth erected Wind 1 in March 2010 followed by Wind 2 months later at the wastewater treatment plant to offset some of the facility’s electricity bills.
In 2010, the town hired Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., a Burlington noise and vibration consultant, to study the turbine sound. The study found that noise levels from Wind 1 were in line with state regulations.
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