PLYMOUTH – There was a lot the Planning Board didn’t like about a plan to place a two-year moratorium on large-scale wind energy projects in town, so the board offered its own.
The original proposal, in the form of a citizen-petitioned article slated for this fall’s Town Meeting, would have directed all elected and appointed officials to cease any action on anything remotely resembling a wind turbine.
Director of Planning Lee Hartmann noted before the hearing on the article in question that “giant, commercial turbines, those meant for home use only, even pinwheels could have been prohibited by this article: the language was that broad.”
So, guided by a review of the article by town counsel, Hartmann prefaced the hearing with four questions that the petitioner – a group of voters led by Treetop Way resident Kieran Kearney – needed to answer and, then, at the conclusion of the hearing, he pointed the board toward a menu of options it could consider.
Hartmann’s first question was what is the harm alleged to be caused by wind energy facilities.
When the hearing was opened up to comment from the public a long line of residents of Plymouth, Scituate and Falmouth addressed the “alleged harm.”
Kearney began with a broad overview of the existing town bylaw, then referenced several governmental agencies in Massachusetts and Canada that are taking a second look at health and safety concerns relative to the siting of large-scale wind turbines.
Kearney noted that Falmouth officials have stopped the nighttime operation of two municipal turbines because of health concerns.
More specific allegations of the harm that might be caused by wind turbines came from residents in Massachusetts’s communities with existing wind turbines, including David Dardi of Gilson Road in Scituate.
Dardi said he had returned to his home near the North River in Scituate, after several years in Florida caring for his mother, to discover that the town had erected a 400-foot wind turbine a little more than a half mile from his home.
“My first reaction was maybe I can grow to like it,” Dardi said. “After all, I am 3,100 feet from it.” But when he tried to go to sleep, Dardi said he was woken up by a loud “whoosh” and feeling the distant turbine’s blades pulsating through his body.
Dardi called the effects “wind turbine syndrome” and pleaded with the board that this is not a conspiracy but a fact.
“Please, go slowly,” Dardi concluded. “Crawl. Until we can get more data don’t do something that can’t be undone.”
Falmouth resident Neil Anderson told the board that Wind 1 – Falmouth’s first municipal turbine located just 1300 feet from his home – gave his wife vertigo and heart palpitations, and effected his health to the point that he could no longer work in his chosen field – ironically, energy efficiency.
In Anderson’s opinion, the main culprit is a low frequency pulse created by the blades of large turbines, which he compared to a car stereo’s throbbing bass.
Hartmann’s second question was what specific evidence there is of the harm caused by wind energy facilities.
Apart from the personal testimony of Dardi, Anderson and others, several people referenced new studies currently under way.
Kearney brandished a British Medical Journal from March, which concludes that “a large body of evidence now exists to suggest that wind turbines disturb sleep and impair health at distances and external noise levels that are permitted in most jurisdictions…”
According to testimony, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a report in January that concluded that existing setback regulations are not sufficient, and the state’s Center for Disease Control is studying 12 turbines to compare the predictions of their noise levels with actual data collected during their operation.
Plymouth resident Darren Mansfield said it appears to him that the town’s wind energy bylaws have no scientific basis. He noted that the World Health Organization suggests a minimum distance between turbines and residential development of 6,000 feet, and responsible turbine manufacturers, such as the German firm Retexo, recognize the potential harm that turbines can cause and suggest they be sited no closer than 2 kilometers (more than 6,000 feet) from residential areas.
Whether a moratorium would effectively address these and other concerns, and if a less restrictive solution might accomplish the same goals as a moratorium, were Hartmann’s last two questions, and they were largely addressed by the board’s discussion after the public had its say.
Board member Malcolm McGregor opposed the moratorium, mostly because it would not effectively address the concerns voiced by those who had spoken earlier.
And McGregor worried that, in the absence of a well-designed wind energy bylaw that protects the resident and the consumer, the town faced less pleasant options.
“The environmental consequences of those other options,” McGregor said, referencing oil, gas and nuclear energy, “are far more damaging than from wind.”
Board member Tim Grandy supported the moratorium because of his concern for the health of residents living nearby.
“We have to look at what is happening across the board, across the world, with these particular issues,” Grandy said, “and when we discuss health that should be our paramount concern.”
Alternate member Ken Buechs saw the issue as size.
“I have always been of the opinion that these behemoths don’t belong in our backyards,” Buechs said. “There is a place for them,; we do need them; but I urge this board to support this bylaw, to move it along to Town Meeting.”
When the four voting board members – excluding the chairman – had been heard from, it was a tie.
“Energy production is a dirty controversial subject,” Garrett noted, as preface to his tie-breaking vote.
“Whatever it is there is always a group of stakeholders against a particular capacity to generate electricity,” Garrett continued, “and all of those stakeholders are members of a society called the human race that is consuming and using more and more energy, yet does not have the will or desire, is not building a generating source, to meet that insatiable demand.”
Nevertheless, Garrett said he was in support of limiting wind turbines in residential zones “for the simple reason that while I haven’t seen conclusive information, I have seen and heard compelling information, which leads me to believe there may be problems.”
Garrett’s was the decisive vote, resulting in a recommendation to support a moratorium, but the debate continued as the board found it difficult to craft the wording of the moratorium on the fly in a manner that would both facilitate the creation of a new, more effective bylaw and allow the technology to be used on a smaller scale.
In the end the board deferred to language crafted by Hartmann, who summarized the board’s recommendation as a “two-year moratorium on wind energy in residential zones and village centers for turbines in excess of 100 feet in height that are tied in to the grid.”
Smaller systems will still be allowed under existing town bylaws.
And projects that have already begun regulatory review will not be affected.
A few miles away, resting on its side in a lot off Camelot Drive, the town’s first large-scale wind turbine is expected to go up any day now.
Planning Board member Bill Wennerberg’s office is almost directly across from that lot, and Wennerberg said he is looking forward to finding out just what the effects of living near a large turbine are.
“You’ll be our guinea pig,” Garrett said.