Shifting winds: Even after turbines have been up and running in communities, the battle rages on to shut them down
One year ago today, Kially Ruiz says he received his first noise complaint about the new turbine his company built and operates under an agreement with the town of Kingston. The problem was, the turbine did not actually begin operating until the following day.
In the ensuing 365 days, the battle between Ruiz’s company, Kingston Wind Independence LLC (KWI), and a small but very vocal cadre of residents near the 262-foot turbine has escalated to the point that the quasi-public Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has now agreed to undertake shadow-flicker and noise studies years after the turbine was first proposed and one year since it went online.
The fight in Kingston is being driven by the latest outcrop of residents trying to fight industrial-sized wind turbines sited in or near residential areas. Many of the turbines are either owned by private companies and operated under agreements with towns, like in Kingston, or built and owned by communities themselves, such as Falmouth and Fairhaven, trying to take advantage of the state’s net metering law that allows them to produce power, sell it premium rates, and reap the benefits. There are millions at stake for both public and private operators.
But the opposition is growing and, in turn, putting pressure on turbine owners, public and private, to defend their investments. In Falmouth this week, the Zoning Board of Appeals upheld a resident’s complaint about one of the two turbines violating the town’s noise ordinance, even though other boards, including the selectmen, said there is no basis for the complaint. The other turbine was not subject to the complaint or decision. Next week, Falmouth voters will decide on a Proposition 2 1/2 override that asks residents to approve money to dismantle and remove what is referred to as Falmouth I, the target of the complaint, and repay grants and advance tax credits as well as other associated costs of removal. Officials estimate the price tag at $14 million.
Though Falmouth residents have already voted at Town Meeting against one proposal to tear down the turbines, few can predict the outcome of the upcoming referendum, especially in light of the appeals board ruling. Those on both sides of the wind turbine debate will be closely watching the Falmouth override vote.
In Kingston, the battle has become so heated that Ruiz issued a press release with a “fact sheet” that contains a number of references to scientific studies and astronomical patterns disputing the flicker complaints, but also includes threatening passages and snarky comments directed at residents lobbying state and town officials to address their concerns.
“Flicker is not a threat to anyone. It is simply a shadow. A shadow cannot hurt you,” says the press release. “If the shadow is cast on your book while reading, simply lower your shades/close your curtains. Problem solved. Stop asking for public resources to be wasted solving your intolerance when you can solve the problem yourself.”
In March, Doreen Reilly, who lives about 1,000 feet from the turbine, told Fox 25 Boston that staying in her home with the noise and strobe effects was “torture.” That brought the threat of a lawsuit from Ruiz’s company, though no residents were identified by name in the press release issued more than six weeks after Reilly’s interview with Fox aired.
“The use of the word ‘Torture’ once again shows malice and intent to defame,” says the press release. “Avoid use of such language or you are exposing yourself to liability for defamation.”
Reilly says, “The first time I saw [the statement], I cried.” Then she got mad. She says KWI has been dismissive of her and others’ complaints without putting any effort into investigating them.
“It’s consumed my life for the past year, it’s taken away my home,” she says. “We no longer want to be here when the noise and the flicker take place. He’s trying to scare me into not speaking out. I’m going to speak out for my home.”
Ruiz, who says he’s willing to sit down with residents to discuss their “reasonable” complaints, says the statement’s tone may come across as “bellicose,” but it is merely an effort to finally respond to a yearlong onslaught of what he calls “misinformation and propaganda.”
“I can see how you would read it as very snarky but I’m just being very blunt,” he says. He says he doesn’t think he’s making it tougher for town officials to deal with residents. “I spoke with them and they agree somebody has to tell the truth in this whole matter,” he says.
Tom Bott, the Kingston town planner and a supporter of the turbine, which generates hundreds of thousands in lease fees and energy sales for Kingston, says the “shot across the bow” from KWI is not helpful, but he says the vitriol on both sides is what’s feeding the festering battle.
“I think there’s been hyperbole on both sides,” says Bott. “I’ve been in [Reilly’s] house within about 20 minutes of her complaining about noise. We really didn’t hear anything, maybe an occasional hum if you trained your ear.”
Ruiz says he will not participate in the shadow flicker study, insisting it is a “desktop analysis” and he doesn’t trust the accuracy. He said he commissioned his own flicker study in October and found that the shadows occurred a total of four hours of the month. He says for the area in question, the turbine only casts shadows for several hours during the months of March and October, well below the worldwide industry standard of 30 hours a year. But even if the state study determines the shadow flicker exists more than that, there are no regulations that address the issue.
Reilly says those are the two times a year the strobe effect hits her house but says it’s more extended than stated. She says the turbine casts the shadow over her house from mid-September through early November and again in late January through March. She says her resolve is even stronger and she will not pull the shades or close her curtains as her own personal mitigation effort.
“Do you think in my own home that I have to close my blinds,” she asks. “It’s trespassing on my property. . . We don’t need a study on flicker because we know when and where it occurs. We have real live residents telling where it’s happening.”
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