FAIRHAVEN – Massachusetts officials are reexamining the state’s role in siting wind turbines.
An independent panel of scientists commissioned by the Department of Environmental Protection in January issued a report recommending new regulations on wind turbines. They include that the state monitor existing turbines, study noise effects on heavily populated areas and impose noise limits on turbines depending on the population density of their surroundings.
The new regulations being considered by the DEP would require the state to review new wind projects before turbines are built, department spokesman Edmund Coletta said.
The regulations suggested by the Wind Turbine Health Impact Study could require manufacturers to report expected noise levels to turbine operators, which would allow the state to run computer models to predict noise levels at different distances.
“The regulations are just one of a number of suggestions from that report that we are considering,” Coletta said. “Nothing is set in stone yet; nothing has been written. We haven’t finished our review of the report.”
Last week, the DEP announced that the town of Falmouth would be shutting off one of its two turbines after nighttime DEP testing showed it exceeded acceptable noise limits. Coletta said the department will continue to test the turbines during the day.
“Really, our focus right now is on Falmouth’s turbines and filling in all the data there,” he said.
He added that while the department is open to conducting testing on Fairhaven’s turbines, “there has been no decision made that we would test anywhere other than Falmouth.”
Coletta said the DEP has not received any complaints from Fairhaven residents or a request from the town’s Board of Health to step in.
“We’re not really sure the kind of input that has been given about the turbines,” Coletta said.
The DEP isn’t the only state agency looking into turbine regulations. Next week, the Ways and Means Committee of the state House of Representatives will receive a bill that would direct the DEP to establish statewide turbine siting standards. The standards would not be regulations, but could be used by communities as guidelines for the turbine building process.
The bill marks a stark change from a previous bill being considered by the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee that, in addition to creating siting standards, would have also expedited the permitting process for turbines in an effort to encourage more green energy. That bill was killed by the committee in January to allow standards to be set before permits are streamlined, according to committee staffers.
Coletta said the DEP does not currently review turbine projects before they are built unless they are being constructed on landfills or wetlands.
“In those cases we have to review and give them a permit for building on those locations, but that review isn’t concerned with sound,” Coletta said. “We are mainly looking at if the landfill can support the weight of the turbine or if the wetland will be damaged in the construction process.”
“There is nothing on the books that says we have to review turbines for sound or infra sound or flicker,” he added. “A bill from the state Legislature would give us more rights to do that.”
Windwise member Kenneth Pottel said his group was “cautiously optimistic” the state’s actions would improve the lives of Fairhaven residents who are experiencing health problems from the turbines.
So far, his group has only made complaints to the Fairhaven Board of Health, but he said it would consider complaining directly to the DEP. Already, he said, the DEP’s involvement in Falmouth has given the group credibility among Fairhaven residents.
“I don’t know if we can convince everyone that these turbines really are causing health problems,” he said. “But the fact that the DEP is looking into it, maybe some people will see that and think ‘Well, maybe the people complaining are reasonable.'”
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