Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Analysis Process picked up speed this week as the group considered relocating the two town-owned wind turbines. It also considered making mechanical changes to the turbines and altering neighbors’ homes to reduce disruptive noise.
The group spent much of the first three meetings discussing how to get the adversely affected neighbors to the table, and last week incorporated the neighbors into the group.
Group members asked questions related to each option and identified which experts could provide answers. The process moved faster because members e-mailed questions to the group facilitator during the week. As a result the group made it through the announced agenda with time to spare and went on to discuss another option that was not on the agenda.
After they work through their list of options, the group members will hear presentations from experts. Those presentations are expected to start next month.
The Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Analysis group was formed last month after more than two years of complaints from neighbors who live between a quarter-mile and a half-mile from the two town-owned wind turbines at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Plant off Blacksmith Shop Road. Town officials and other residents have said the turbines produce green energy and revenue for the town. Because of the strong feelings on both sides, the turbines have become a divisive issue in town. The process facilitated by the Consensus Building Institute of Cambridge is designed to provide recommendations to solve those problems and submit to the Falmouth Board of Selectmen by September 1, in time to place an article on November Town Meeting.
The first option the group discussed was moving the wind turbines. Robert Shea, a group member and director of the Falmouth Geographic Information Systems, said he and town assessor David A. Bailey identified one possible location in Falmouth where the turbines could be relocated. The site is in Falmouth, south of the wind turbine on the southwest portion of the Massachusetts Military Reservation, west of the Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area and east of Route 28.
It is the only site in Falmouth that has the wind capacity and is a reasonable distance from residences and businesses, he said. But it is complicated by land ownership issues and would likely require a land swap, he said. The site is far enough away from the Cloverfield Way neighborhood off Route 151, he said, but closer to housing at the military base. Mr. Shea and Mr. Bailey declined to identify the exact parcel of land they were referring to because it has not been discussed with the group.
Relocating the turbines raised questions about appropriate setbacks from residences. Group member and negatively affected neighbor Kathryn L. Elder said setbacks should be based on the actual data already recorded about the wind turbines. Based on her calculations, the wind turbines should be sited at least a mile from the closest homes, she said.
But group member Joseph A. Hackler, who represents the group primarily concerned with the financial implications for the town, said the group should review European standards before they start making decisions.
Group member and turbine neighbor Todd A. Drummey said a good standard to start with is 10 times the rotor diameter of the wind turbine blades. That setback would require the turbines to be about a half-mile from residences.
But Mr. Hackler said the group should consider setbacks as close as three times the diameter of the turbine blades. “Maybe that’s a reasonable place to start,” Mr. Hackler said.
“And I would say that three times is less than we have now and that’s a problem,” said Mr. Drummey.
“And I would say that not everyone agrees with that,” Mr. Hackler said.
Mr. Drummey said that he could not sit on the group if they moved the wind turbines closer to homes.
Group member Jeffrey W. Oppenheim said the group should not put the turbines closer to homes or businesses than they are now. “I think we have to be conservative,” he said.
Facilitator Stacie N. Smith said she did not think the group should consider moving the turbines closer to residences. “We’re here because the turbines in their current location are causing a problem,” Ms. Smith said. “We do not want to recreate that problem somewhere else.”
Group member Anastasia K. Karplus said if the turbines are relocated, it should result in noise levels within a certain threshold, but defining that threshold was another topic of discussion.
Ms. Elder said the nighttime limits on noise should not exceed 37 to 39 decibels. But Mr. Hackler said people would be surprised at how loud certain areas are. His office is typically 52 to 55 decibels, he said.
But it is not only the loudness of the noise, but the low frequency noise that upsets people, Mr. Drummey said. “The beating effect is what drives people nuts,” said Mr. Drummey. The low frequency noise is similar to someone driving down the road with the bass speakers on a stereo booming, he said.
Some of the problems with the turbines might be solved by making mechanical changes to the turbines. For example, some turbines have serrated edges on their blades to reduce noise.
Previous consultant reports, however, indicated that mechanical changes may not be possible on the Vestas 1.65-megawatt turbines that the town owns. The group agreed to ask DNV, a technical consulting company, about what mechanical changes are possible and report back at a future meeting.
Group member Karen M. Cardeira said the group should only spend time on mechanical changes that are practical, not on changes that could theoretically solve the problems.
Ms. Karplus suggested that the town turbines could be replaced with smaller turbines that would reduce the overall noise.
Other options discussed were adding insulation or replacing windows in neighbors’ homes. The group will ask DNV to give a report about those possible ameliorations as well.
Ms. Elder reminded the group that the wind turbines are running now between 7 AM and 7 PM and still cause considerable distress to some of her neighbors.
During the public comment section of the meeting, John Carlton-Foss of Church Street, Falmouth, said the turbine group should consider using the same tower and foundation but put a different nacelle and turbine on top. A smaller turbine would likely create less noise, he said, and would not require new permitting or other changes.
Kathy Sherman of Brewster, who attended the meeting, said the Vestas V82 model turbines have low frequency noise characteristics that are unlike many other models of turbines.
Member of the Falmouth Energy Committee Richard L. Koehler said the members of the group should download sound monitoring applications to their smartphones to monitor noises in their daily lives. He also suggested affected neighbors use sound generators to mask the sound of the wind turbines in their homes.
There will be no meeting of the wind turbine options analysis group next week because of the July 4 holiday. The next meeting will be on Tuesday, July 10, at 6:30 PM.