The web site for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center features a headline on its main page. It reads: “The heart of the clean energy revolution resides in Massachusetts.”
But in any revolution, struggle precedes change. And struggle is exactly what towns like Kingston, Scituate and Hanover have encountered in recent months after installing new wind turbines in an effort to reduce energy costs and help the environment.
Groups of residents in Kingston and Scituate claim the turbines are making them sick. Studies are being conducted to determine whether the turbines should be shut down, and both towns have been slapped with lawsuits from angry citizens.
Hanover still doesn’t have a working turbine after two years of delays. So the town is now seeking damages from the turbine’s contractor.
The town manager in Hull, where the state’s first wind turbine was built 12 years ago, said these recent turbine controversies, which have also cropped up in Falmouth and Fairhaven, will someday be viewed as the growing pains of a fledgling industry.
“That’s part of creating a whole new industry base,” Hull Town Manager Philip E. Lemnios said. “Not every automobile company is around today that was around 100 years ago, but cars are certainly better today than they were back then.”
The turbine backlash has prompted some local communities to proceed more cautiously when considering wind turbine projects. In recent years, turbine proposals have been tossed around in Plymouth, Weymouth, Quincy, Milton, Marshfield, Norwell and Cohasset. Some of these plans have been met with resistance or been ruled out altogether.
In Marshfield, officials have decided to put their turbine plans on hold and focus instead on solar power as a viable renewable energy source.
“I think the (town’s) energy committee and myself have lost our appetite for the wind turbine because of the controversy they’ve caused in other communities,” Marshfield Town Planner Paul Halkiotis said, later adding, “We should let the dust settle in the other towns before we continue with this project.”
In Scituate and Kingston, town leaders have heard emotional pleas from residents who want the turbines to be turned off. But officials have been advised by lawyers that shutting them down with no scientific evidence that the turbine’s owners are in the wrong exposes the towns to costly lawsuits.
Joseph Casna Jr. is chairman on both the selectmen and health boards in Kingston, so he has heard the turbine debate more often than most officials.
“Having a group of residents sit in front of you, pleading for relief (from the turbines), it’s gut-wrenching,” Casna said.
In light of the turbine complaints, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center recently partnered with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, launching a year-long noise study on turbines across the state.
Although cities and towns have control of where their turbines are sited, the state regulates their noise levels. Existing law prohibits turbines from emitting sound that is more than 10 decibels louder than ambient noise.
In Scituate, opponents of the turbine have argued that the state’s testing regulations are outdated, established long before wind turbines were built. The state says as much in a letter it sent to Falmouth officials in 2011.
“The evaluation of sound impact from wind turbines is a complicated issue that was not considered by MassDEP when it developed its sound evaluation and noise-compliance guidance in the early 1970s and as revised in 1990,” the letter reads.
Ed Coletta, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said his office is reviewing its testing criteria for wind turbines, but no decisions have been made.
Steven Weisman, vice president of Peregrine Energy Group, a consulting firm working with Weymouth on a turbine feasibility study, said the protocol for where to locate turbines has evolved because of the complaints. The state is now advising firms to conduct noise studies earlier in the planning process, he said.
Despite the recent backlash, Weisman is confident the turbine industry will survive and thrive. He said new developments tend to attract resistance.
“My grandfather told me rock ’n’ roll made him crazy,” Weisman said.
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