August 23, 2013

Scituate turbine tests prove controversial

By Jessica Bartlett, Town Correspondent | August 23, 2013 |

Testing to analyze the amount of shadow flicker created by Scituate wind turbine began this month, but neighbors complain that the tests are taking place at the wrong time of the year.

Shadow flicker refers to the strobe-like effect that comes from the turbine’s blades as they move into the sun’s path.

Although neighbors have long protested to include an analysis of the turbine’s shadow flicker into an overall study of the machine, they say there isn’t much to see right now.

“The period at which those most impacted by shadow flicker on the South Coast of Massachusetts is between October and March,” said Tom Thompson, Executive Director for a neighborhood fighting against the location of the Scituate turbine. “Anyone that’s looking to commission a shadow study prior to that that knows those are not the peak periods. [To do one now] is not an accurate analysis.”

Town officials reject the implication that the study would be inaccurate, and said the strobe testing is more a fact checking of the mathematical equation used to initially find the amount of shadow flicker that different points in town could expect.

“All they are doing now is going back and saying let’s check to see if the math was done properly and if the shadow falls at certain times of day,” said Al Bangert, director of the Department of Public Works.

Bangert compared the most recent testing to the checking of a survey, and said that it can be done at any time of year.

The most recent testing is being conducted through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center as part of an analysis into turbines and their effects.

Scituate partnered with the group, along with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Energy Resources, to gain a better understanding of the 400-foot-tall turbine perched swan-like on the Driftway.

The analysis will compare the turbine’s shadow length and duration to the results of an study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst Wind Energy Group before the turbine was erected.

“The permitting process reviewed it and Planning Board issued a permit based on that being a given,” Bangert said of the initial process.

According to that study, most of the points around the turbine were predicted to experience shadow flicker for less than the industry-deemed safe standard of 30 hours a year.

The exceptions are the properties at 141 Driftway and 151 Driftway, which were predicted to receive 36 1/2 hours and 51 hours of flicker a year, respectively.

Both houses belong to members of the McKeever family, who have long protested that the shadow flicker they receive is hurting their health.

Town attorneys have pointed out in the past that the McKeevers received $20,000 in mitigation money for any disturbances the turbine would cause, though the McKeevers said the money was only so the family wouldn’t protest the siting of the machine, and health effects fall outside that category.

“My clients are exposed to shadow flicker across the entirety of the Property for up to three (3) hours per day from the months of October through March,” said Tanya Trevisan, an attorney for Lauren and Mark McKeever.

When town officials asked to conduct the most recent survey on their land, the McKeevers turned them down.

“It would be most beneficial for the Town to fully understand the magnitude of the impact that the shadow flicker has on my clients’ property if the proposed “ground proofing” shadow flicker analysis on the Property is performed at a time during which my clients actually experience shadow flicker on the property, i.e., from the months of October through March,” Trevisan said in a letter to Bangert.

Thompson faulted the idea of basing a second study on the first study, since many neighbors see the first analysis as imprecise.

“Mr. Bangert can throw out that they will do a remodeling of the old model, but the old model is inaccurate…so the new model will be just as inaccurate,” Thompson said.

Despite the critiques, the sampling will move forward, with town officials standing firm that the fact checking would corroborate the theoretical analysis undertaken before the turbine went up.

“Cleary they don’t understand the nature of flicker studies,” Bangert said. “If there is a shadow, it can be measured. If it’s sunny, there is a shadow.”

The study is also being conducted alongside a noise study, undertaken by owners of the turbine Scituate Wind LLC.

That study has only just begun, though it has been in the works for months.

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