PLYMOUTH – Fairhaven Wind developer Sumul Shah knows what it’s like to encounter strong opposition to a wind turbine project.
Shah was the keynote speaker Wednesday at a meeting of wind energy developers and environmentalists at which he described his relationship with the town of Fairhaven and the challenges he has faced in dealing with the turbine-opposition group Windwise.
Shah spoke at a meeting of the Massachusetts Wind Working Group, a pro-wind energy group that drew roughly 50 wind industry insiders, developers and environmentalists. Also present were three members of Windwise from Barnstable, Falmouth and Fairhaven.
In his talk, titled “Turbines Are Not All Rainbows and Sunsets,” Shah expressed “concerns” about Windwise.
“The problem we face with Windwise is that it makes bold claims with issues that have not been scientifically vetted or that are not true,” Shah said. “It masks the true and good information that is out there. Even true and good information that opposes wind turbines gets drowned out by the noise.”
As an example, Shah cited false claims he said he had heard that turbines increase the risk of forest fires because they reduce carbon dioxide in the air, making room for more oxygen.
That anecdote, as well as some others, elicited laughter from the attendees. Following Shah’s presentation, and presentations from three other panelists, Louise Barteau, a Fairhaven Windwise member, scolded the audience for taking Fairhaven’s problems lightly.
“I heard a lot of laughter in the room, and a lot of gallant speeches, but there are people in my town who are struggling with the health effects of turbines,” she said. “We spent the whole afternoon discussing strategies to get more communities to welcome turbines and not one person brought up the actual health consequences.”
In addition to Shah’s presentation, Sue Reid of Conservation Law Foundation and Jay McCaffrey of the Sierra Club gave presentations at the UMass Amherst-organized event. Their remarks included allegations of financial ties between far-right Republican organizations and turbine opposition groups, such as Massachusetts Windwise and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
Barteau said she was offended by the idea that she might be serving the agenda of conservatives and coal companies.
“I am a lifelong Democrat and environmentalist and I am not funded by the Koch Brothers,” she said. “But the actuality of living with the turbines is different than what we were promised.”
Shah did underscore the importance of public outreach and the importance of listening to people’s problems with the turbines, saying he has “sat in living rooms of people with very legitimate and actual symptoms and concerns.”
“We’re going to be in these communities for 15 to 30 years,” he said. “We have to be good neighbors.”
Shah also fielded a question about how he deals with animosity from community members who have personally attacked him publicly.
“The vast majority of people treat me with dignity and respect,” he said. “Many people you just look at them in the eyes, smile, shake their hands and agree to disagree.”
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