BUZZARDS BAY – When Larry McGrath walked into a January meeting of the Buzzards Bay Citizens Action Committee and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection he apologized.
At first it was because he was a few minutes late, but later he again said he was sorry for another reason: McGrath, who lives on Lake Drive in Plymouth, often apologizes to Buzzards Bay residents because his town greenlighted four wind turbines just over the line on the Keith Mann cranberry bog.
Since the machines’ large blades started spinning this past summer, stories of deafening noise, unexplained headaches, and restless nights from neighbors of the Plymouth turbines have echoed those told by Falmouth residents living near the turbines of that town’s wastewater treatment facility.
Karen Gibides, who lives with John McMahon on Morning Mist Lane, is one of the closest neighbors in either Plymouth or Bourne to the Future Generation Wind turbines. Just over 1,400 feet away, the turbines sometimes seem so close you only really notice them when one of the blades sweeps into view, she said.
Their house was situated to maximize the view of the neighboring bog, with a large set of windows in the master bedroom and a back deck that looks across to the Mann property. So when the turbine installation began last fall, it piqued Gibides interest.
“It was cool,” said Gibides, who works as a nurse. “It was a huge monstrosity. It almost looked like a carnival ride.”
McMahon, who has lived on the property since 1995, has been a long-time neighbor of Mann, and knows members of his family.
Mann sold the project to ConEdison and leases the property the turbines are on to the company. He assured neighbors the project would be different than Falmouth, McMahon said.
“They said this wouldn’t be a nuisance,” Gibides said.
But neighbors say those reassurances have fallen flat since the turbines started to spin.
Carol Brigham and her husband Fred moved to Hideaway Village, a cluster of small cottages off Head of the Bay Road, to be closer to family. She planned to live out the rest of her days there in peace, but she fears that is now in jeopardy.
When the wind is just right, the noise can be unbearable, Brigham said.
“It sounds like a plane that just hangs overhead and never lands,” she said.
It messes with her sleeping patterns, and “once (she’s) awake, that’s it,” she said.
ConEdison Solutions responds to complaints as they are received, company spokesman Ross Wallenstein wrote in an email.
“Future Generation Wind received all required permits prior to commencement of operation, including those required by the Town of Plymouth where the turbines are located,” he wrote.
Neighbors have started to sell, Brigham said, but the value of her home has dropped since the turbines were installed, and she fears they will never recoup what it cost them to buy their home.
“We’re here as long as we can stay here,” Brigham said.
For Joan Giard, a Morning Mist Lane resident, the turbines have added new wrinkles to her daily routine. Like some others on the committee, she now keeps a journal with entries like these: “9/29 8:00 a.m. Wind ENE, nausea, dizziness, headache. 3:00 P.M. Wind ESE, head pressure nausea, dizziness, headache confusion. No symptoms from 9:00 to 3:00 as I was out of the home.”
The group now has a uniform complaint form, to be collected and submitted to the boards of health in both towns.
On Jan. 11, the noise was so bad, Gibides and McMahon contacted Bourne police to file a noise complaint. McMahon’s golden retriever, which normally lazes around the house, was found shaking on top of a kitchen counter.
Around 5 a.m. that morning a Bourne police officer was standing inside their home.
“Officer confirmed that turbine noise in bedroom was excessive,” the officer reported, but because the noise was coming from Plymouth, Plymouth police were called. Plymouth police told them to call the board of health, which passed the call along to the building inspector.
The noise often depends on which way the turbines are facing and the weather conditions, McGrath said.
“They can pivot and turn and when they face your home, you hear it,” McGrath said. “I just can’t believe that an industrial power plant would be built next to a residential area. I come from Newton; there is no way in the world that anything like this would have been even considered let alone get a special permit … they dominate the landscape in the neighborhood.”
He’s resorted to taking cold medicine and melatonin to try to sleep.
“Is the cause everyday stress?” he said. “I don’t know.”
Mann, who lives on the farm where the turbines are, said that he hasn’t experienced any of the problems reported by neighbors.
“All of the peer-reviewed studies that have been done don’t indicate that there are any direct negative impacts,” Mann said.
The wind turbines make noise, but it isn’t louder than a passing car, he said.
“It is a noise that people can hear,” Mann said. “They’re not louder than the crickets in the summertime.”
Mann has made forays into other green energy and is currently constructing a solar array on the farm, projects needed to keep the cranberry business alive, he said.
The turbines produce enough energy for about 3,000 average homes, and several South Shore towns along with the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative have agreements to purchase energy produced by them, Mann said.
“It’s good, clean renewable energy,” he said.
Every neighbor interviewed for this story said they were not against wind turbines, or “green energy” in general, just against the location of the four nearly 500-foot-tall turbines.
They’ve all heard the acronym “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) before and insist this is different.
“It’s one thing If you choose to buy a home near an airport, you kind of have to expect that,” Giard said about the noise. “When we bought this home we never expected to be near an industrial farm.”
When members of the committee went before the Plymouth Board of Health in November, many were miffed that complaints about noise from chickens generated a much more robust conversation than the turbines.
“It kind of cracks me up that you know they fight for townspeople about chickens and roosters and here we have these monoliths in our backyard and everyone wants to wash their hands of it,” Giard said.
With the entire project in Plymouth, where the town of Bourne has no jurisdiction, residents on the Cape side of the town line say they feel they have little to no recourse.
“You do feel kind of helpless,” Giard said.
But as they continue to fight the turbines, they are starting to at least get attention from local politicians and regional state employees.
“It was put right on the town line, right on the county line; just outside of our reach to be able to exercise any jurisdiction, exercise any regulatory authority and really … approve, disapprove or mitigate much of the project to any degree,” Bourne Selectman Michael Blanton said during an appearance on Falmouth Public Television with David Moriarty, a vocal opponent of the Falmouth turbines.
The action committee has now met with the Department of Environmental Protection twice and some members said they’re happy to have someone listen to them but wary.
“That’s the first governmental agency that I actually felt listened to us,” McGrath said. “I’ve been fooled before but I actually got the feeling that she would actually do something … We haven’t had people listen to us for six years.”
The action committee continues to fight, and has asked the Plymouth Board of Health to request that the DEP formally request data from ConEdison and test the noise output from the turbines. The committee met again with the DEP on Feb. 24 to follow up. Many are hoping for more than just a sympathetic ear.
After a rare window when the cranberry bog’s pumps were shut off and the turbines shuttered because of work on an Eversource substation, neighbors were elated.
“I had noticed on Friday when the turbines were off that I could actually hear the wind soughing through the pines, a sound I have always loved and had not realized was non-existent since the turbines became operational,” Giard wrote in an email. “That is just one example of why I chose to live here. Now my peaceable living, simple enjoyments, and rest, are being destroyed.”