September 26, 2017

What the wind may blow

Felix Carroll: What the wind may blow | By Felix Carroll | The Berkshire Eagle | September 25, 2017 |

FLORIDA – Michael Fairneny invites you to his home. Everyone, come visit. He insists. It’s way up, just off the Mohawk Trail, the Berkshires’ top shelf, where the county holds for safekeeping its lovely curiosities, including the town of Florida, which, according to Fairneny, is not so lovely anymore.

But come. You be the judge.

Maybe he’ll invite you onto his back deck, which affords a spectacular southern view of ridgelines that make the Rockies seem redundant.

“Twelve acres and a view,” says Fairneny, who has lived in this small, well-kept, shoebox-shaped home with his wife, Joanne, for the past 36 years. They raised two kids here. “This was my dream,” he says.

Then, five years ago, the nightmare began.

To that point, Fairneny, 64, who displays a prickly impatience for pretense, doesn’t wish to dwell on the back deck. It’s his front porch where he holds court these days. From the front porch, you see the blades of industrial wind turbines appearing and disappearing along the ridgeline just a half a mile to the north.

“You can’t hear them right now,” he says.

The wind is blowing from the east rather than west. When it blows from the west, you get the direct hit, the “thump-thump” or the “whoop-whoop“and “it’s like living next to an airport and the planes never land,” he says. “My peaceful world of 30-plus years is gone.”

The turbines are among 19 that comprise the Hoosac Wind Power Project in Florida and Monroe. They went online in 2012. You can see them twirling like a pod of pinwheels from points throughout Northern Berkshires, a $90-plus million merit badge demonstrating the commonwealth’s commitment to clean energy.

Neighbors have complained about their noise since practically Day One. The turbines have plenty of admirers as well.

If you visit Fairneny – and people are; people from Savoy, in particular, where a wind farm is being proposed – he will likely employ colorful language to explain to you why industrial wind turbines are a bad deal from the standpoint of noise, alleged health risks, and impact on the environment and property values.

“We’re screwed here,” he says, “but I still feel compelled to speak out and tell people from other towns what they’re inviting.”

He may even take you for a ride around the neighborhood to get a closer look. Hoosac’s turbines rise about 340 feet, including blades.

Echoing complaints of some turbine neighbors around the country, he says his wife suffers a chronic condition as a result of the turbines, in her case, ringing in her ears whenever she’s home. Still, his wife would prefer him to dwell on healthier pursuits than fighting wind turbines. He had a heart attack recently. He wears a pacemaker. He says he’d rather be gardening. But standing up against turbines is a matter of principle at this point.

He even refused to sign a so-called good neighbor agreement with the owners of Hoosac Wind, the Spanish-based Iberdrola electric utility. They offered him $2,000 up front and another $2,000 annually “so I would shut my mouth,” Fairneny says. A spokesman for Iberdrola, Paul Copelman, says Iberdrola does offer neighbors agreements that can entail regular monetary payments. He did not know the specifics of what Fairneny was offered and whether it would prohibit Fairneny from publicly speaking out against the turbines.

Fairneny, who runs a restaurant at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, has picketed projects in Vermont. He’s met in living rooms and town halls with people across Massachusetts where wind projects have been planned. And he and his front porch have recently become an unlikely epicenter of opposition to plans in Savoy to put up five wind turbines, a 12.5 megawatt project proposed by Minuteman Wind and Palmer Capital Corp. that’s the subject of a special town meeting at the Savoy Fire Station at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

On this past Thursday morning, Fairneny sits on his front porch with his friend Larry Lorusso, who lives down the hill in Clarksburg, a fellow opponent to the 28.5 megawatt Hoosac Wind project (“When they’re cranking, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to sleep,” Lorusso says.) The two are discussing megawatts, the “pipe dream” (Fairneny’s phrase) of game-changing clean energy, the health risks of infrasound, and a judge’s ruling in June that forced two turbines in Falmouth to be shut down because they were deemed a nuisance.

Another full-fledged turbine opponent has just pulled down the driveway in a gray pickup truck, a bearded man in green suspenders.

“Is this Michael Fairneny’s place?” the man calls up from the driveway.

“Yes,” Fairneny says. “I am Michael Fairneny.”

“I’m Salvatore Raciti,” he says. “We spoke on the phone.”

Yes, yes. Come, come. Welcome, welcome.

Raciti, of Savoy, takes a seat on the front porch, and the men talk turbines. In Savoy, says a guardedly optimistic Raciti, the proverbial “fat lady” has not only not sung on the turbine project, but she’s “not even in sight.”

Ten miles to the south, in Savoy, a man on a different front porch would beg to differ. Harold “Butch” Malloy, 64, of Chapel Road says he fully expects wind turbines to be built upon his 300 acre undeveloped property on West Hill. Late last year, the state signed off on the project, and the town issued a permit. Voters in Savoy will decide Wednesday whether to approve a change to the town’s wind bylaw that would allow for longer turbine blades. If voters deny the change, “we’ll just use smaller blades,” Malloy says.

In Savoy, there are neighbors for and adamantly against the project. As is the case in Florida, turbines are tearing up relationships.

Malloy, who has worked in oil fields out west and at hydroelectric and nuclear facilities back east, says, “We can’t keep burning fossil fuels the way we do. Something has to change.”

That’s not his only motivation. The town of Savoy stands to gain an annual payment in lieu of taxes in the six figures. The town and developers are hammering out an agreement. Malloy declines to comment how much he, himself, will receive in annual payments, only to say it’ll be less than six figures.

He has a stack of freshly printed pamphlets put together by Minuteman that seek to address many of the issues raised by Fairneny and others. Malloy will fold them by hand.

He’s standing on his back deck now, a wide, spectacular view.

“From here, I’ll be able to see three of them,” he says, referring to the proposed turbines, which would rise 453 feet or 425 feet, depending on what voters decide. “I wish I could see them all.”

Another back deck, another man, another dream.

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