The Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process group has met nearly every week since May to find solutions to problems with the town-owned wind turbines near homes, but at the last meeting before drafting the final report for the board of selectmen, Members representing different groups were nowhere near a compromise or a solution.
The neighbors who have complained about health effects, lost quality of life, and lowered property values of the homes within earshot of the town-owned wind
turbines, said their preferred solution is to take the wind turbines down and perhaps purchase photovoltaic solar panels to produce renewable energy.
A compromise that leaves the turbines running at reduced hours during the day or night does not work for neighbors, said Kathryn L. Elder. The turbines disrupt the neighbors’ quality of life and sleep, she said. A compromise to the town means making less money or producing less energy. “We’re not thinking about compromise in the same way,” she said.
But Anastasia K. Karplus, representing residents concerned with climate change, said from her group’s point of view taking down the turbines was not acceptable. “If we were to replace it with solar, would that be acceptable?” Ms. Elder asked. The turbines produce so much renewable energy that it would take 40 acres of solar panels to replace them, Ms. Karplus said. Residents concerned about climate change feel a deep emotional connection to the turbines because they are producing millions of kilowatt hours of clean renewable energy benefiting “Mother Earth,” she said.
The climate change group would rather buy the affected neighbors’ houses than put up solar, Ms. Karplus said. If neighbors did not want to sell the houses, the town could take the homes by eminent domain, she said. Facilitator Stacie N. Smith from the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge said that the group’s final report should include two options. “Either we run them as much as we can or take
them down,” she said.
Another package of options that involved curtailing the turbines during set hours of the day or in certain conditions did not seem plausible, Ms. Smith said, because it makes less money and produces less energy for the town and it does not solve the neighbors’ problems. “At the last meeting, it sounded like the curtailment options seemed to most as sub-optimal from all perspectives,” she said.
But Joseph L. Hackler said only presenting two opposing options to selectmen was a mistake. Robert Shea agreed and said they should present selectmen with all the information they have gathered since May. Ms. Smith said curtailment does not create a solution for either group. “I think that may be true, if we only had two groups, but we have five,” said Karen M. Cardeira. The wind turbine group includes representatives of five groups: adversely affected neighbors, town employees, and residents primarily concerned with climate change, the fiscal well-being of Falmouth, and a fair and open process.
Judith Fenwick compared the turbine neighbors to a villager who is exiled or thrown into a volcano as a sacrifice. Kathleen R. Driscoll said the group should not limit the options for selectmen, but give them as many choices as possible so they can find the best solution. But Diane C. Funfar, a neighbor, said the group must consider the health effects of wind turbines. “This committee would never have been formed if there weren’t health issues,” she said. “Should the town be able to force us from our homes?”
That question, like many others at the meeting, remained unanswered. The members could not agree on some of the basic facts about whether the wind turbines exceeded state noise regulations. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection determined earlier this year that Wind 1 exceeded the 10-decibel noise threshold at Neil P. Andersen’s home at 211 Blacksmith Shop Road in both high and low wind conditions in the middle of the night.
But Ms. Karplus said there are some people who do not believe the turbines exceeded acceptable noise limits at any homes, because the sampling methods were flawed. On the other hand, Todd A. Drummey, a neighbor, said according to his calculations the turbines actually exceed noise limits at many more houses than just Mr. Andersen’s, but he said he was not concerned about finding out if the turbines just barely exceeded the threshold or not. Ms. Driscoll said 85 percent of complaints about the turbines are related to sleep, so turning off the turbines at night should be viewed as an acceptable solution. David A. Bailey said the group should realize that “nibbling around the edges is going to leave a lot of people very unhappy.”
Each of the solutions the group is considering will cost millions of dollars and will have to be approved by Town Meeting and perhaps a ballot initiative, he said.
The group also did not agree on whether more testing was necessary or how to figure out how to run the turbines within the DEP sound limits. Even if the group were to agree on how to implement the current DEP sound limits, John J. Ford said those regulations are likely to change in the near future.
The lack of agreement on even the basic facts left members obviously frustrated. The group’s ground rules are that one person should speak at a time and no one should interrupt the speaker, but interruptions were commonplace throughout the lengthy discussion. Ms. Smith said she knew that the group was not likely to agree on solutions, but she hoped they could at least agree on the facts, and “it doesn’t seem like that is going to happen,” she said.
Regardless, Ms. Smith said she would draft the report for selectmen which will be discussed at the group’s last meeting on December 18 beginning at 6 PM. “I’m getting the sense that we’re going to write a report that says, these are all the things we’ve learned, good luck to you,” Ms. Smith said.
At the end of the meeting a few minutes is typically reserved for public comment. Falmouth Plan- ning Board Chairman Ralph E. Herbst told the Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process group not to be discouraged by the length of time their work has taken or by the lack of progress. The Falmouth Planning Board worked on a wind turbine bylaw for over two years that was rejected by Falmouth Town Meeting earlier this month and this week they went back to the drawing board.