SHELBURNE – Twenty-two days after the Shelburne Planning Board defined its scope of work and nine days after breaking into subcommittees to balance the workload, the Shelburne Wind Advisory Committee (WAC) presented its latest research on Thursday, Jan. 31. A member of Heath’s Renewable Energy Advisory Committee, Steve Rynack, was invited to offer further input.
Heath this week decided to ask residents at a special town meeting later this month to ban commercial-scale wind turbines via a bylaw change. The decision to ask voters to approve a ban comes after the receipt of a 17-page final report by the Renewable Energy Advisory Committee.
In that report, which would exempt already-existing small-scale wind turbine, the potential negative impact and costs to the town were found to outweigh perceived benefits.
In Shelburne, a subcommittee consisting of WAC Chair Kevin Parsons and member and Zoning Board of Appeals liaison Lowell Laporte looked into small-scale wind bylaws and legal issues in other towns.
They found that Fairhaven, MA has a complaint form on the first page of its town Web site as part of the process to rewrite town bylaws, including one regarding small-scale wind turbines.
And in Falmouth, MA, selectmen recently agreed to remove two town-owned wind turbines at the wastewater treatment plant after reports of ill effects to residents. Removal costs have been estimated at $9-$11.9 million.
“There are clearly less small wind bylaws,” said WAC member Michael Parry. “Most are dated 2005 or 2006, drafted in the period of naiveté of human issues. When you see fall zones, it shows the limit of their concern.”
Another subcommittee, consisting of Parry and WAC clerk Ray Hartman, looked into health effects, particularly linked to wind turbine sound. Hartman said medium and large-scale turbines produce infrasound, a sound wave so low it is inaudible to human beings. But Rynack pointed out that even so, the sound emitted is thought now to affect proper functioning of numerous human organs, including the diaphragm and inner ear. He added that the percentage of households experiencing adverse impacts as reported increased with increases in turbine height, blade radius and capacity.
Although Hartman said small wind turbine systems do not produce infrasound, he added they are noisier due to the mechanical sounds of their gearboxes and the increased aerodynamic noise from faster rotational speeds of blade tips. Parry said faster rotational speeds produce more of a shadow or “flicker” effect, also ascribed to various health effects from sleep disturbance, than do larger turbines.
“The sound from a wind turbine goes on all day and night,” said Parry in response to Parsons’ saying that most people would not care if a small turbine were sited along Route 2 because daytime traffic is louder. “It would be like someone speaking to me while I’m trying to sleep.”
When Hartman described the sound of the 100-foot, three-bladed Yankee Environmental Services turbine at the Airport Industrial Park in Turners Falls as “quite a racket in the relatively light wind,” Parry said he would be surprised if manufacturers know the decibel level of their turbine models under all wind conditions. Rynack suggested the town should specify in the by-law that the turbine noise not exceed five decibels over ambient noise, prompting Parry not only to say that ambient noise levels change during times of day, but also that manufacturers cannot guarantee a turbine model will make no more noise than, for example, 32 decibels.
As to model types, Hartman said the lO-kilowatt, 23-foot-diameter Bergey EXCEL wind turbine has the longest warranty of all turbines in the industry, lasting just five years. It is the same model that is installed in Ancram, NY, where there is no sound ordinance, but where 12 families neighboring the turbines are currently prepared to sign affidavits about how the sound level has affected them.
Jan Voorhis and Janet Sinclair, both on Buckland’s Wind Advisory Committee, also attended the Shelburne meeting. Voorhis said the sound beneath a turbine is normally quieter than the sound out from it, and Sinclair was concerned about homes at the same elevation as a turbine’s rotor having the potential for both direct decibel sound and infrasound, if the turbine were large enough. The board and audience found it amusing when Parry justified Sinclair’s concern by reading an excerpt from a book entitled Wind Power for Dummies.
When Hartman said that most small wind system barely perform as advertised, WAC member and Planning Board liaison John Wheeler offered an example. He said the two-kilowatt SkyStream 3.7 wind turbine Peter Mitchell of Hawley has installed on a 50-foot-high tower that provides electricity for Mitchell’s cider mill produces a total of one megawatt of power per year – less than the 4.8 megawatts of power per year it is rated for.
Mitchell explained, however, that if the wind blew constantly at 20 miles per hour daily, the turbine’s power output would match its rating.
“There is hardly any wind potential in small scale,” said Rynack. “It generates so little for the cost that it is not effective.”
Hartman tried to define how much power a wind turbine system for premises use – meaning primarily to generate heat or electricity for a principal home or business – should be in Shelburne.
A handout offered states state utilities and statutes have three classes of net metering facilities; Class I for capacities under or equal to 60 kilowatts, Class II for capacities more than 60 kilowatts but under or equal to one megawatt, and Class III for capacities more than one I megawatt but under or equal to two megawatts. Likewise, turbine equipment manufacturers define small-scale turbines as less than one kilowatt, medium scale as from one kilowatt to under 50 kilowatts, and large scale as 50 kilowatts and more, but wind installations eligible in the state for net metering are primarily those of medium and large scale.
WAC member Robert Jaros spent two days trying to obtain general usage data from Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO) without luck, said Wheeler. In comparison, Wheeler said in the previous WAC meeting that his home and farm use about 15 kilowatts of power. Sinclair said she used Google to find that the average household in the state uses five kilowatts.
Parsons asked Wheeler to seek out town resident and WMECO representative John Walsh for the information, and Laporte suggested Wheeler also ask resident and Co-op Power representative Lynn Benander.
The next WAC meeting will be in Memorial Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. Other WAC meetings have been scheduled for Feb. 28, March 14 and March 26, each at 6 p.m. at Greenfield Co-operative Bank on Bridge Street.
Cameron Graves and Virginia Ray contributed to this story.
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