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Anti-turbine group gets boost from Falmouth

SALEM – Recent tests showing that a wind turbine in Falmouth exceeded state noise guidelines has bolstered a local group trying to block a turbine planned for Winter Island.

Peter Carlton of Salem Wind, a group fighting the proposed Salem turbine, said the latest test results prove that wind turbines are much noisier than predicted in the studies done by local municipalities.

“I think that confirms our suspicions all along that the noise studies (by cities and towns) are flawed,” he said. “(Noise from turbines) affects neighbors a lot more than they tend to admit.”

The sounds from a 1.65-megawatt wind turbine in Falmouth were more than 10 decibels above the baseline, ambient noise level for that area, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

The excessive noises were recorded at one of five locations that was tested near two Falmouth turbines, the DEP said. The high levels were found at a residence about 1,300 feet from the older, and presumably noisier, of the two turbines.

As a result, Falmouth selectmen ordered one of two turbines shut down and the other to operate only during the daytime for a period of 30 days, while the DEP does more testing.

The other four sites tested in Falmouth were within the guidelines, the DEP said.

Salem Wind contends the proposed 1.5-megawatt turbine on Winter Island will create similar noise problems and also could impact residents’ health. They say the “industrial-sized” turbine should not be located close to residents.

The noise controversy in Falmouth surfaced as Salem was conducting its second round of sound tests. For two weeks this month, the city placed monitors at sites near Winter Island and across the harbor in Marblehead, where residents are also concerned.

Results from the recent wind tests, which were done to determine the ambient noise levels near Winter Island, have not yet been analyzed.

Although a monitor near the Plummer Home for Boys was vandalized during the tests, a city official said they may have been able to get usable data even though it was in operation for only a few days.

Mayor Kim Driscoll, a strong backer of the turbine, said the latest noise test results at Winter Island will be shared with Salem Wind and the public.

“We are certainly trying to go about this the right way,” she said.

Driscoll said the city is trying to “provide as much information as we can so we can make an informed decision. … We don’t want it to have a negative impact on this beautiful area and the neighborhood that abuts it.”

The city conducted tests a few years ago that showed there should be sufficient wind on Winter Island. Salem officials say the turbine will generate between $200,000 and $700,000 in annual revenue from electricity sold to the grid.

“So far, the information we have gathered has pointed us in a direction that says this project looks like it will be good for Salem,” the mayor said, “but we want to continue to answer questions folks have and gather information.”

There is no timeline for building a turbine, Driscoll said. The project will require state funding and City Council approval.

Carlton, the Salem Wind representative, said noise and other problems have been documented around the world and here in Massachusetts.

There have been many complaints from Falmouth residents, he said, and also concerns raised in Fairhaven from a turbine that went into operation just a few weeks ago.

“As soon as you start raising (noise) levels with these wind turbines, they start creating lots of neighborhood problems,” he said. “… I don’t think the mayor fully understands the impact these turbines could make.”

The state recently held three public hearings on wind turbines and only got a few noise complaints, said Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the DEP.

“Really, the only complaints we received were from folks in Falmouth,” he said.

As a result of the Falmouth test, however, the DEP is considering new noise regulations.