WEST BARNSTABLE – State regulators visiting Cape Cod got yet another earful Thursday on plans to create guidelines for wind energy projects.
Although state Department of Public Utilities officials have said the guidelines will be voluntary, critics of wind turbines located near residential properties say they believe the recommendations eventually will become rules. Gov. Deval Patrick has set a goal of 2,000 megawatts of wind energy in Massachusetts by 2020, with most of that coming from offshore.
“You know what the worst thing is? We’re being ignored,” said Neil Andersen, of Falmouth, during the hearing held by the DPU at Cape Cod Community College on proposed guidance for land-based wind turbines.
The roughly 40 people from the Cape, Fairhaven, Nantucket and other towns who filtered in and out the Tilden Arts Center auditorium during the four-hour hearing typically fell into two camps: Those who argued that there is no practical way to site wind turbines in Massachusetts, and those who countered that the urgency of combating climate change makes wind energy essential to the state’s energy mix.
Each side cited studies to make their case. Some shouted. Others wandered off topic.
Andersen said he hoped state officials would visit the homes of people living near wind turbines but, because he didn’t expect that to happen, he had brought a speaker to replicate the “infrasound” from the turbines near his home in Falmouth.
Andersen said the inaudible sound would likely cause people in the auditorium to become sick, but that he would like to let it run during the remainder of the hearing.
“One thing I can guarantee you is that nobody is going to fall asleep,” he said.
After a quick consultation DPU hearing officer Robert Shea said he was worried about the liability of making people sick if what Andersen said was true.
“I’m not by any means minimizing the complaint you report here,” he said.
“Thank you,” Andersen said. “I don’t have any recording.”
The fact that the mere threat of experiencing the same symptoms as turbine neighbors worried Shea and the other state officials in attendance was enough, he said.
Ronald Zweig, Falmouth’s representative to the Cape Light Compact, asked the panel to place science ahead of anecdotal information.
There is also the possibility that people who live near turbines experience the so-called “nocebo effect” whereby they internalize the symptoms they are told to expect from living near turbines, Zweig said.
Australian studies showed no health impact from wind energy projects, Zweig said, adding that studies on real estate values also showed no impact.
Wind energy opponents, however, have called those real estate studies as well as a study of health effects from turbines by the state’s Department of Public Health and Department of Environmental Protection flawed.
“I submit to you the documents the Massachusetts DEP panel was willing to put their name on is junk science,” Lilli-Ann Green of Wellfleet said.
Green, a board member of Windwise-Cape Cod, said she and her late husband had interviewed people all over the world and found similar symptoms everywhere among people who lived close to wind turbines.
“The problem is real. It can be measured, and it is affecting people’s health,” Green said.
Louise Barteau of Fairhaven said she rented a studio in the fall of 2011 within 963 feet of where a wind turbine was later built.
Barteau said she felt pressure in her head, nausea and other symptoms frequently claimed by affected neighbors of wind turbines.
“I said I’m not sticking around for this because I could leave,” she said.
Others, she said, weren’t so lucky.
Kathy Starr of Fairhaven said pressure changes from the turbine near her home had caused her jaw to lock up.
When she called the state DEP, she was told that she should leave her home and “get a cup of coffee,” Starr said.
“I couldn’t drive my car anywhere,” she said. “I had to drive to a parking lot to wait it out.”
When establishing guidelines, regulators should make sure to recommend siting turbines much farther than the 1,500 feet from her home to the turbine, Starr said.
“I don’t want them to be sited in neighborhoods,” she said. “They don’t belong around people.”
Wind energy backers argued that not everyone living near the wind turbines in Fairhaven and Falmouth experienced ill effects and said that improvements in technology are mitigating some of the problems being reported.
Carl Borchert of Nantucket said insulation is being used to reduce noise from a pressure bump when blades pass by a turbine’s tower.
“When properly sited, they can be a transition away from dirty fossil fuels and dangerous nuclear power,” he said.
Wind energy is an inexhaustible resource and needed to combat climate change, Borchert said.
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