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Massachusetts to consider turbine-specific noise regulations

The state will look into drafting separate noise regulations for wind turbines, Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner Martin Suuberg said Thursday.

Speaking at a municipal wind conference at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Suuberg said he had no details on the regulations yet but that “There is a different quality of noise generated by turbines.”

“This is something we will be exploring further,” Suuberg said.

Currently, industrial wind turbines fall under the same state noise regulation as all other industrial facilities. Under that regulation, a noise source is in violation if it is more than 10 decibels louder than an area’s background noise.

Some SouthCoast and Cape Cod towns have already begun to explore changing their local sound regulations to only allow a six-decibel difference for turbines.

Suuberg said that idea is something he would have to look into and he also said he personally has heard of turbine regulations in Europe where there is an overall cap on how loud ambient sound – with or without turbines – can go.

“We recognize a need to look into this but now we have a question of what’s the right standard,” he said.

In January 2012, a DEP-organized panel of independent experts conducted a review of available studies regarding the health impacts of wind turbines.

That panel concluded that turbines have not been found to directly affect people’s health but “annoyance” from noise can in turn lead to sleep deprivation.

Suuberg said that panel is still reviewing commentary it received on that review and will next be looking at noise regulations.

Suuberg was one of many state officials at the conference who tried to assuage the fears of those residents present who were worried about the health effects of turbines.

State Undersecretary of Energy Barbara Kates-Garnick said the benefits of turbines outweigh the negatives, and that emissions from traditional fuels such as coal have other effects, like asthma and learning disabilities.

“Many of you claim health effects from turbines, but the fact is there are many health effects from more traditional energy that people are suffering from now,” she said.

Fairhaven turbine opponent Louise Barteau was at the conference and said she was worried that the state’s goal of installing 2,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2020 would put pressure on towns to site turbines too close to residents.

Andy Brydges, the senior director for renewable energy generation at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said that Barteau’s fears were unsupported.

“We recognize responsible siting is a valid complaint with turbines,” he said. “But we get too hung up on the fact that we have a goal and that therefore turbines will be placed too close to people in an effort to meet that goal. That’s simply not what we are after.”