NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – Berkshire and Franklin county residents continue to show concerns about nearly every aspect of industrial wind turbine construction.
They had a chance to air their disquiet with the proliferation of turbines at
the Western Massachusetts Wind Symposium, which took place at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts throughout Thursday.
The symposium was conducted by Macalester College of St. Paul, Minn., to determine public attitude toward wind energy and promote discussion about the opportunities and cons of this energy source.
The study is being done by Roopali Phadke, an associate professor of environmental students at Macalester researching the intersections of political ecology and science, technology and society.
The meeting, most of which was closed to the press, is just one of four in a national study that will further compare regional differences.
“When Roopali called us and said that we … Western Massachusetts, would be one of four sites across the country for the study, we jumped the chance,” said Lauren Gaherty of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, which co-sponsored the event. “We need this dialogue here, we want to have that dialogue.”
Gaherty told the two dozen participants that “often we hear about wind at public meetings or at project proposals and people seem polarized, and this is an opportunity for you to tell us and tell Roopali’s team what we in Western Massachusetts think about wind and how we want to site it, if we want to site it at all.”
The introductory part of the meeting explained why this area was chosen, outlined how the 24 participants were selected from a pool about triple that size and then gathered initial opinions about wind power. The press was then asked to leave as the group continued its research, which Phadke said should be available on Oct. 1.
“This is an area of high wind energy potential, which is why projects are being considered in your area,” Phadke said. “We are also interested in this area because like from the other places we’ve studied, we know this is a landscape that’s a draw for people, not just within your community but from other places. It’s a center of recreation, tourism, and there are so much protected land in this area, so that raises more issues for siting wind energy.”
Roopali also noted that the U.S. Department of Energy is striving for wind power to account for 20 percent of energy in 2030. In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick set a mandate to hit 2,000 megawatts before 2020. Including the approved Cape Wind (420 megawatts) and under-construction Hoosac Wind Project in Florida (30 megawatts), the state will sit at about 465 MW.
The 24 participants ranged from ages 19 through 78 and had diverse backgrounds, with two-thirds living in Berkshire County. The group included students, teachers, town committee and board members, residents close to the Hoosac Wind Project and the Berkshire East wind turbine. Roopali explained that the group was selected based on Census data and brief opinion survey to bring varying perspectives.
The group overall was open to the idea of personal wind power, but did not like the idea of industrial power for a series of reasons. They cited health issues for both wildlife and people, as well as noise, noting the controversial “wind turbine syndrome.” (A state study released in January dismissed the health effects.) Scenery and property values were also a concern. Some disagreed with its high costs compared to what they considered little output. There were also concerns of “regional abuse,” in which the eastern part of the state benefits more.
Despite the volume of concerns, when polled, a total of 26 percent of the group polled said they would support a wind turbine in their town, while 41 percent were opposed and 33 percent answered neither.