After 10 years of operating along the Driftway, the Scituate Wind turbine continues to generate discussion and debate.
In response to complaints about health problems and sleep deprivation related to turbine operations, two articles on the warrant for Annual Town Meeting, taking place at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 11, will address the turbine.
Article 14, asks members to approve shutting down the wind turbine year-round between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Article 28, a citizens’ petition, will ask voters to approve shutting down the wind turbine permanently.
In the shadow of the turbine
Not long after the blades of the wind turbine began to spin, residents living in nearby neighborhoods started to report negative health impacts they felt were caused by the noise and flicker.
“The noise and vibration, especially during all hours of the night and early morning, is unbearable,” said Ellen Kasper. “It is a well-known fact that lack of sleep causes health problems. This inability to sleep when we choose to and enjoy peace and quiet in our home and yard, is difficult enough.”
Kasper, a 15-year Navy veteran and an RN for more than 40 years, submitted the citizens’ petition, “because the town has shirked its important responsibility of protecting the health and wellbeing of all residents of our town.”
The current nighttime shut down of the turbine helps, said Valerie Vitali, “but leaves us listening to the engine noise on Christmas Eve/Day, for example, and all of those lovely summer weekend days when we try to sit out on our porch.”
Despite sending letters and emails, and attending board and committee meetings, neighbors said there has been no relief.
“In spite of these documented health issues, our town refuses to apply our powerful state nuisance statute; a law applicable to all operations including duly permitted uses such as Scituate Wind’s turbine,” Kasper said.
Vitali has the same message she has repeated over the years.
“The town made a mistake,” she said. “Not enough was known about turbines but the site choice was obviously a bad one.”
Town officials, as well as representatives of Scituate Wind, LLC, have said they have listened to the complaints of the neighbors over the past 10 years, and have taken action to rectify the situation.
According to a letter from Gordon L. Deane, president of Scituate Wind, the company participated in two noise studies for compliance and conducted by different experts retained by the Scituate Select Board, which included input from residents.
The compliance tests did noise sampling in the neighborhood under certain wind conditions in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2019. No violations of the applicable noise standards were found, except for one exceedance at the McKeever property- the closest property to the wind turbine – in 2019.
Additionally, Scituate Wind has worked with the Select Board to shut down the turbine in summertime from 2016 to 2019 when the wind was blowing within certain degrees from different directions, the letter states.
The wind turbine was also shut down in 2020 and 2021 during all wind conditions between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
In December 2021 Scituate Wind restarted the program to have the wind turbine shut down between 11 p.m. to 6 p.m. This shut down currently stands.
Fallout from shutting down the turbine
Based on the PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) between the Town of Scituate and Scituate Wind, the initial term of the project is 15 years from its first full operations date, or through mid-April 2027.
Shutting down the turbine “without appropriate compensation would be strongly contested by Scituate Wind as such an action would be a violation of the agreement between Scituate Wind and the Town of Scituate,” Deane states in his letter.
“The town does not own or operate the turbine, so it cannot simply stop the turbine,” said Select Board Chairperson Karen Connolly. “Scituate Wind has told us they estimate their losses over the remaining years of their contract could amount to more than $9 million, not including removal of the turbine. They will expect the town to pay for their losses.”
If the town cannot reach a mutual agreement with Scituate Wind, the town will have to decide if it wants to sue Scituate Wind to shut the turbine down, Connolly continued.
“This course of action will incur unknown legal and technical expert fees with no guarantee of success and no predictable timeline.”
Either way, shutting down the turbine permanently would have to be financed, most likely through a Proposition 2 1/2 override.
In addition, Connolly said, the town will lose an important source of green energy, as well as the favorable electric rates and green energy credits it receives annually.
However . . .
The town would not face costs if Scituate Wind was held to account for being in violation of the State Noise Reg and Nuisance Law, according to Kasper.
“If Scituate Wind is deemed to be in violation of their contract language, which requires that they ‘adhere to all applicable legal requirements,’ then there would be no need for the town to be funding curtailment.”
Other towns – Kingston, Bourne, Plymouth and Falmouth – have declared their wind turbines a public health nuisance, Kasper said.
“In addition, Barnstable and Plymouth Superior Court judges have upheld these nuisance declarations and supported those towns’ ability to legally shut down their operations without financial penalty.”
The town disputes the validity of nuisance law application in this case because studies show it complies with state and local nuisance standards, according to Select Board member Karen Canfield.
According to Kasper, pre-siting information was widely available from towns, states and countries regarding appropriate setbacks, and problems caused by IWTs (industrial wind turbine) flicker, audible noise, low frequency, infrasound, and vibration.
“The town claims the IWT was well vetted, but we have been unable to locate minutes from renewable energy meetings held since 2005 to prove this claim,” Kasper said, stressing the turbine is “non-compliant with state Public Nuisance Law, Chapter 111, Section 122, Noise Regulations, and violates the Special Permit.”
Two peer reviews done on Scituate Wind testing events reveal further noncompliance, she said, adding the town has ignored these reports.
“If acknowledged, the IWT could be shut down as a nuisance, and the $300,000/year the developer demands for 11 p.m. to 6 p.m. shutdown then used to finance litigation.”
Voters to decide
If Town Meeting votes in favor of Article 14, the town will negotiate a new voluntary agreement with Scituate Wind at an estimated cost of $300,000 annually, Connolly said.
“Shutting down the wind turbine all year round from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., as proposed in Article 14, is a reasonable response to some neighbors’ complaints about sleeping problems. Article 28 is an overreach which may not even be achievable.”
Article 28 compels officials to do their duty to protect public health and use their authority to shut down this improperly sited IWT and end all nuisance conditions harming neighbor’s health since 2012, Kasper said.
“As taxpaying citizens, we deserve our health and privacy to be protected as our Select Board Chair assured us in 2009, stating ‘any liability would be assumed by the town and/or the operator’ for any problems arising from IWT operations.”
Town Meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 11 in the gymnasium of Scituate High School, 606 Chief Justice Cushing Highway (Route 3A).
More information on Town Meeting, including the Advisory Booklet and the Warrants may be found on the Town of Scituate website at scituatema.gov
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