FALMOUTH – Wind energy could soon touch down in Falmouth – again.
Mayflower Wind recently got approval from the Falmouth Conservation Commission to conduct geotechnical boring investigations at two beach parking lots to eventually install underground cables. The company will appear before the Select Board on Monday to get permission to conduct the tests on town property.
Christopher Hardy, external outreach manager for Mayflower Wind, said the 100-foot-deep boring tests will be done in the parking lots of Surf Drive and Falmouth Heights beaches and will gather data on the soil conditions of those locations.
If the Falmouth Select Board grants permission, Hardy said they will conduct the tests as soon as possible, and tests at each location will take no more than a few days. Mayflower Wind will then repair the bore holes.
Mayflower Wind, a joint venture project between Shell and EDP Renewables, is in the early phases of planning an 804-megawatt wind farm located more than 20 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard on the Atlantic Coast Outer Continental Shelf.
The energy generated from the wind turbines will travel to an offshore substation, and then to an onshore substation through underground cables in Nantucket Sound. Mayflower Wind wants to put the substation in Falmouth, and connect the cables to it.
Hardy said the company plans to use the horizontal directional drilling method to install the cable, which would involve installing it deep beneath the nearshore and beach areas. It is similar to the method used by Comcast and Eversource to bury their cables under Surf Drive Beach near Mill Road, he said.
If the soil is the proper condition at the Surf Drive and Falmouth Heights areas, an underground cable from Nantucket Sound will extend from a conduit built in the parking lot behind the beach, Hardy said, and from there, underground cables would go up to an onshore substation farther inland. Ultimately it will be connected to the overall electrical grid, Hardy said.
The project has a long way to go, with regulatory and permit processes a couple years ahead, Hardy said. If all goes well, the wind farm will start generating energy by the end of 2025 or 2026, president John Hartnett said at a March Select Board meeting.
Some Falmouth residents have expressed concerns about the project, particularly concerning the danger of high-voltage cables beneath people’s feet.
“We’re worried about our health and our children’s health and our pets,” said David Moriarty, an East Falmouth resident and long-term activist. “The cables emit cancer-causing agents. The World Health Organization has already measured it. It’s not an unknown science. We know exactly what it is, and we’re very scared.”
Hardy said there has been a range of studies conducted on the cables and its voltages. National health institutes and leading scientific bodies have not found dangerous impacts to humans, pets or other animals, he said.
The World Health Organization found in 2007 that there were no substantive health issues related to extremely low frequency electric fields. The study did find short-term effects of exposure at high levels of magnetic fields, which could cause changes in nerve cell excitability in the central nervous system. It found that there was not enough scientific evidence related to possible long-term health effects to justify lowering exposure limits.
Other studies from Canada and Australia found that the electromagnetic fields produced by the generation and export of electricity from a wind farm do not pose a threat to public health.
Hardy also said that safety concern will be part of Mayflower Wind’s analysis, and there will be further tests as part of the regulatory and permitting process.
Stakeholders involved also will have multiple opportunities to express concerns and provide feedback, he said.
Falmouth, however, has a complicated relationship with wind energy.
About a decade ago two wind turbines were installed at the wastewater treatment plant. Neighboring property owners filed multiple lawsuits, and both of the turbines were shut down. Last year town meeting voters approved an article requesting that the town pay $2.5 million to dismantle them. The town could also pay millions in debt related to the turbines. The wind turbines have yet to be dismantled, and the issue has yet to be resolved.
“We’ve already been down this road,” Moriarty said. “We’re already 20 million (dollars) in the hole because of the wind turbine project in West Falmouth.”