Is the Massachusetts wind turbine bylaw too weak? Does it fail to adequately protect neighbors from excessive noise? Is ConEdison violating existing noise bylaws?
Here we go again.
In the wake of the Falmouth wind turbines fiasco, residents of Buzzards Bay and south Plymouth are understandably upset about the noise generated by four industrial-sized wind turbines that have begun operating just across the town line from Bourne in Plymouth.
Ever since the turbines’ large blades started spinning last summer, stories of excessive noise, unexplained headaches, and restless nights from neighbors have echoed those told by Falmouth residents living near the turbines of that town’s wastewater treatment facility.
Carol Brigham, who lives with her husband in a cluster of small cottages off Head of the Bay Road, said when the wind is just right, the noise can be unbearable. “It sounds like a plane that just hangs overhead and never lands,” she said.
On Jan. 11, the noise was so bad, Karen Gibides and John McMahon, who live on Morning Mist Lane, contacted Bourne police to file a noise complaint. Around 5 a.m. that day, a Bourne police officer confirmed that turbine noise in the bedroom was excessive, 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. In other words, the typical run-around.
The noise often depends on which way the turbines are facing and the weather conditions, said Larry McGrath, who lives near the turbines in Plymouth.
“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.”
Which brings us to the crux of the matter.
In 2011, partially because of complaints raised about the Falmouth turbines, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and Executive Office of Environmental Affairs developed a model bylaw to help cities and towns establish reasonable zoning standards for wind power development.
The bylaw applies to utility-scale wind facilities as well as small wind energy systems. The bylaw addresses everything from height of turbines and noise levels to setbacks from private property.
In this case, ConEdison Solutions, which owns the turbines, played by all the existing rules and regulations.
“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,” wrote Ross Wallenstein, company spokesman, in an email to the Times.
Unfortunately, Bourne has no jurisdiction because the entire project is in Plymouth.
“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.
Which raises the question: Is the Massachusetts wind turbine bylaw too weak? Does it fail to adequately protect neighbors from excessive noise? Is ConEdison violating existing noise bylaws?
With the exception of the cranberry farmer who leased his land to ConEdison, every neighbor interviewed by the Times said they were not against wind turbines, or “green energy” in general, just against the location of the four turbines.
“It’s one thing If you choose to buy a home near an airport, you kind of have to expect that,” said a neighbor. “When we bought this home we never expected to be near an industrial farm.”
Which is why ConEdison should consider some mitigation measures, such as stopping the turbines at night during sleep hours.
Meanwhile, the Buzzards Bay Citizens Action Committee has asked the Plymouth Board of Health to request that the state formally request data from ConEdison and test the noise output from the turbines. That’s the least the state and town can do.
It’s time for the action committee, Plymouth and state officials, and ConEdison to start proposing workable solutions.
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