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Kingston Board of Health wants new study, flicker regs for new turbines

KINGSTON – A more in-depth shadow flicker analysis may be required before the Board of Health is convinced that it should order a reduction in the hours of operation of Kingston’s five wind turbines.

Board of Health members, acting on a suggestion voiced by Selectmen Chairman Elaine Fiore, are asking the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the agency that commissioned the flicker study, to prepare a proposal for conducting a limited, more in-depth study.

This new study would look at how flicker affects homes on Schofield and/or Leland roads, two streets the first study showed as being among the most impacted. CEC agreed to prepare a proposal working with EAPC Wind Energy, the company that conducted the study.

The idea a second study would have to be done irked some residents. Leland Road resident Sean Reilly said the Board of Health asked to see scientific data, and that even now that its members have the science right in front of them with the results of the first study, they still do nothing to act on what the data is telling them.

“Here are the facts, and now they don’t want to listen to them,” he said.

The shadow flicker assessment conducted by EAPC Wind Energy was developed using WindPro modeling software and wind data provided by the University of Massachusetts without operational data from the Independence turbine owner, Kingston Wind Independence, according to EAPC GIS specialist Chester Harvey, who conducted the study with Wind Analyst Elizabeth King.

While CEC and EAP stand by the results and the methodology that was used, Harvey said the study did not account for trees, for example, so a more in-depth study would take the location of trees and other obstacles into account.

One question raised by resident Tim Fontaine was the cost of this first study. The answer was $25,000, with electric utility ratepayers covering the cost. There was no estimate on what a second study would cost and who would pay for it without further discussions between CEC and EAPC.

While they would not apply to existing turbines, Board of Health members want to create flicker regulations for new wind turbines, including setting a limit on the amount of hours per year flicker affects homes. The three selectmen present agreed that town counsel Jay Talerman could advise the board.

Arguments have been made on either side whether flicker effect is a health hazard, a nuisance or both. Board of Health member Bill Watson said it’s at least a nuisance.

“It may not be a health issue, but it’s still a nuisance issue,” he said.

The Planning Board also plans to create more specific flicker regulations on new construction for the siting of wind turbines as a basis for any future zoning enforcement. The Planning Board will hold a hearing on flicker regulations Monday, Aug. 12. The goal would be to propose flicker regulations at the next Town Meeting.

After refusing to cooperate with Mass CEC’s original sound study for the Independence, Kingston Wind Independence has agreed to cooperate with the state Department of Environmental Protection, with reservations, as it undergoes compliance testing. The state would conduct attended onsite monitoring to determine compliance with the state’s noise regulation.

Monday night, DEP Deputy Commissioner Martin Suuberg said the sound study will begin in July. However, to get a more accurate accounting of the impact of different wind conditions, sound levels would also be studied during the colder months of the year. He said he would reach out to Kingston Wind Independence next week to start working out the details.

The scope of the study, Suuberg said, would be adapted from the original study’s scope developed by MassCEC and Harris Miller Miller and Hanson, the company that conducted the study, with input from town officials, Kingston residents and other interested parties, the DEP among them. As a result, he said, DEP is very familiar with that scope, and adapting it would prevent any further delays.

“MassDEP had a role in reviewing the protocol that was developed to make sure it complied with our noise monitoring and how we perform noise monitoring and how we would evaluate noise monitoring in other circumstances,” he said.

The Board of Health would have to hire its own acoustical engineer to provide that level of expert analysis. While DEP Deputy Regional Director Laurel Carlson, the lead investigator on sound investigations, said DEP could analyze and interpret the data, providing that analysis to the board, there is no licensed acoustical engineer on staff.

The sound study would not include the three No Fossil Fuel wind turbines owned by developer Mary O’Donnell. Board members voted to send O’Donnell a letter asking her for a proposal on how she intends to agree to compliance testing for her turbines.

Country Club Way resident Tim Dwyer said after the meeting he doubts the letter will produce different results because she refused to participate in the previous sound study.

“I’m not confident the results are going to be any different unless she’s forced to cooperate,” he said, adding that he believes that the Board of Selectmen can compel her to do so according to the terms of her Power Purchase Agreement with them.