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Turbine neighbors blast lawmakers over windmill permitting

BOSTON – A plan to speed permitting for wind turbine sites across the state encountered a gale of opposition testimony on Tuesday as residents who live near turbines lined up to tell a legislative committee about the giant windmills’ harmful health effects.

“This bill is disgraceful,” Neil Anderson, a Falmouth resident who lives near a wind turbine, told a Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy hearing. “There are other ways to obtain energy efficiency, and it’s not this way.”

Anderson began to choke up when he said he suffers from headaches and ear pressure on a daily basis. He said the wind turbine by his house has “turned his life upside down.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, would streamline the permitting process that now requires the state to certify an area has the wind to power a turbine before the plan goes to a town’s zoning and planning boards for permission. The state then has to sign off on the plan.

The bill would consolidate the local boards into one single board for the purposes of approving a wind turbine plan, eliminating the need for separate hearings and approvals.

The bill has the backing of Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, who said that the negative effects of wind turbines are due to poor turbine designs and that health effects are not common in most cases.

“Massachusetts needs to make sure that there are clear guidelines for wind turbines,” Eldridge said in a telephone interview after the hearing.

Eldridge said the bill would help to make a more predictable permit process.

Eldridge said if Massachusetts wants to move ahead as a climate-conscious state and reduce its carbon imprint, it must make renewable energy easier to obtain.

“In the district I represent my 14 communities are green communities,” Eldridge said.

Rep. Timothy Madden, D-Nantucket, who is familiar to the Cape Wind energy debate, testified against the bill because of the health effects some people attribute to the turbines.

“Unless you are living in these people’s shoes, or in this case their house, how do you quantify whether it’s (health concerns) legitimate or not?” Madden said.

Finegold said in a telephone interview after the hearing that the bill still gives communities local control. He said wind turbine developers do not build in towns where they are not welcomed.

“Massachusetts is a progressive state in the context of energy reform and energy independence,” Finegold said. “Wind energy is a step in that direction.”

Finegold said he has so far not seen any data that says wind turbines are dangerous.

“You are not putting a wind turbine where someone can get injured,” Finegold said.

But Michael Parry, a Shelburne resident, testified that some people are getting “bulldozed” by aggressive state policies that permit turbines.

“The people in our town have a much better idea of what’s best for our town than a board in Boston,” Parry said.

Parry said Shelburne studied the negative health effects of turbines in advance, eventually banning the turbines. He said other parts of the state did not do the same and are suffering.

Eldridge said such controversies is likely to delay the bill.

“My guess is that it will be several months to take action on the bill because there are several people opposed,” Eldridge said.