Testing continues on the Scituate Wind turbine in an attempt to determine whether audible sounds, which have been a nuisance to several nearby residents, are legally in compliance with state regulations.
At the June 25 board of selectmen meeting, Al Bangert, special projects director, presented an update on the status of the wind turbine acoustical study.
The 400-foot Scituate Wind turbine, located along the Driftway, went into operation in March 2012. In 2014/2015 residents began to complain of “whooshing” sounds during certain wind conditions, primarily in late spring, summer and fall, during the night.
In 2017, after a study to determine wind conditions that generated the annoyance, the selectmen asked Scituate Wind to implement a mitigation program that would shut down the turbine when those conditions existed, between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., from June 1 to October 15.
“This has been into effect every June subsequent to that,” Bangert said.
Last spring selectmen awarded a $50,000 contract to the Maynard-based company Epsilon Associates to conduct noise compliance tests of the Scituate Wind turbine as an independent contractor.
“Basically, it’s a legal study to determine is it in legal compliance,” Bangert said. “If it’s not legally in compliance, we would have to ask that it be put into compliance. We’re looking to discover if it is in compliance.”
Epsilon has performed similar testing in Massachusetts, and other states, and has worked with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“The company worked with the DEP to establish an agreed upon ‘Sound Level Compliance Monitoring Protocol’ involving four Scituate locations during four weeknights when specified wind conditions were met,” Bangert said.
In April, wind conditions were met and Epsilon conducted noise compliance testing. The engineers reported that the wind turbine sound was audible at three of the four locations.
“They have not yet analyzed all of the data to determine whether it meets or fails to meet the DEP standards, but in their judgment it would meet DEP standards. In other words, audible isn’t non-compliant.”
Epsilon will continue to monitor and record wind conditions and will run out to do the testing when those conditions are presented, Bangert said.
“Once this has been completed, they will analyze the results and provide us with a complete report.”
Bangert explained the sound from the turbine might be a nuisance to people, but that there is a difference between being a nuisance and being in legal compliance.
“If it’s not in legal compliance with DEP standards it must be shut down at the cost of the owner of the turbine, and then repaired or mitigation will take place,” he said. “If it is in compliance then they have the right to operate their machinery.”
When the town has asked Scituate Wind to shut down the turbine under certain conditions the town ends up paying the owner for his lost income, Bangert said. “Any further shut downs we do that are not based on it being a legal issue are at taxpayers’ cost.”
Selectmen Chairman Tony Vegnani, who recently returned for a trip to Ireland as part of a delegation from Scituate, pointed out that there are many windmills in Ireland, and that he spoke with the councilmen on any impact.
“They did say people can hear it, but they don’t mitigate anything, they don’t shut them off,” he said.
Vegnani would like to get to the bottom of the issue.
“I’m hoping at some point we get some sort of number and we go back to Scituate Wind and discuss it with them. I think we need to come to some sort of conclusion. In my opinion, we’ve done what we can to some level being financially responsible as well as paying attention to the residents.”
Every time the turbine is shut off costs the town money.
“We signed a contact with these people for 15 or 20 years,” Vegnani said. “We can’t take it down or we’ll have to pay millions of dollars.”
Bangert pointed out that a portion of the revenue from the turbine is used to offset the citizen debt of the public safety complex and the new middle school.
“So we’ve committed funds to help the residents lower the tax burden of these two projects,” Bangert said.
Members of the board expressed frustration with the time it’s taking to get to an answer.
“A lot of people worked a long time to get this in place and the town voted for it,” Vegnani said. “This wasn’t just thrown up there overnight. I think it was unanimously supported by Town Meeting. The town wanted a green energy source. I hope we can come to some sort of conclusion so we can say whatever it is and move on.”
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