FAIRHAVEN – After a month of discussion, some of it behind closed doors, the Board of Health voted Tuesday night to resume overnight operation of the town’s two wind turbines – with a few exceptions.
The 2-1 vote accepted a proposal by turbine developer Fairhaven Wind LLC that would maintain round-the-clock operation of the turbines except in wind conditions when the state’s Department of Environmental Protection found the turbines to exceed state noise regulations.
Neither Board of Health Chairman Peter DeTerra nor member Jeannine Lopes, both of whom voted for the plan, would comment on the vote after the meeting.
Board member Barbara Acksen, who voted against the proposal, said she was uncomfortable accepting the proposal without an independent acoustician to review Fairhaven Wind’s data.
Violations to state noise regulations prohibit any noise source from being more than 10 decibels louder than background noise. The five violations detected in DEP testing conducted between August 2012 and May 2013 were all found during the winter between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. and with northwesterly or easterly wind conditions.
The proposal would also allow for continued testing of the turbines to see whether changing the angle of the blades to slow their spinning could still remain in compliance of state law while maintaining higher levels of power production than turning one turbine completely off.
Representatives from Fairhaven Wind could not be reached for comment.
The proposal by Fairhaven Wind is based on separate testing done by the DEP in June. That testing was conducted on one day at two locations and found that turning one turbine off could reduce noise from the turbines by two to four decibels.
In a separate vote, the Board of Health voted to research ways to fund hiring an independent acoustician, but Acksen said such a review of the data should have occurred before the vote.
“As far as I’m concerned, we have no data without a consultant,” she said.
The Board of Health had been debating Fairhaven Wind’s plan for almost an entire month, and was unable to come to a consensus at its July 23 meeting held in executive session. Acksen said proposals at the time ranged from “testing” the developer’s proposal for one day or one week before fully adopting it.
Although the Board of Health passed the proposal Tuesday night, it must first send a letter to Fairhaven Wind informing the developer that the overnight shutdown order has changed. Fairhaven Wind must then officially decide whether or not to accept the change.
This proposal is only an interim proposal while Fairhaven Wind continues to renegotiate its contract with the Board of Selectmen.
More than 40 members of the pro-turbine Friends of Fairhaven Wind group were present at the meeting, including former Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Brian Bowcock, who was wearing a T-shirt for the group.
After the meeting, group leader Daniel Freitas said plainly he was “glad (the board) made the decision that they did.”
Members of turbine opposition group Windwise were not so pleased.
Citing the one day of DEP testing to verify the plan, Ann Denardis said the board had approved a plan “without sufficient evidence that the turbines will be in compliance.”
The Tuesday night meeting had been scheduled to be held primarily in executive session. The Standard-Times’ attorneys objected to that plan in a letter to the board, saying holding the meeting behind closed doors “as well as the board’s similar exclusion of the public” from a July 23 meeting on the turbines “violate the Open Meeting Law.”
DeTerra decided against going into executive session during the meeting, saying only “we will stay in open session” in response to questions from Town Counsel Thomas Crotty about why the board was not going into executive session.