PORTSMOUTH — When the wind turbine near the high school stopped spinning its blades due to a faulty gear box in 2012, not everyone saw the development as bad news.
For people like Donna Olszewski, who lives about 750 feet from the turbine at 36 Education Lane, it meant no more headaches and sleep problems which she blamed on noise and shadow flicker generated by the machine.
But now that the town has entered into an agreement with a private company to get the turbine spinning again, Ms. Olszewski is afraid she’ll have to experience the ordeal all over again — this time for good.
“It has a physical effect on me,” Ms. Olszewski told the Town Council Monday night. “Now you’re thinking about doing this to me again.”
Her comments preceded council discussion with representatives from Wind Energy Development (WED) of North Kingstown, which is under contract with the town to take down the existing turbine and replace it with a new one. No action was taken and the council voted to table the matter until its next meeting on Monday, Nov. 23.
Voters approved building the turbine with a $3 million bond issue in 2007. The windmill was built in 2009 but has been idle since 2012 due to a bad gearbox supplied by a company that has since gone bankrupt.
Under the agreement with the town, WED is to pay a lump sum of $1.45 million to the town, which officials say would allow the town to pay off the remaining debt left on the turbine. In exchange, the town would buy energy generated from the new 1.5-megawatt turbine over a 25-year period at a rate of 15.5 cents per kilowatt hour. WED has said it hopes to install a new turbine by the spring of 2016.
But three residents who live near the turbine told the council in no uncertain terms that they want the machine gone for good.
Allison Brooks, who lives at 26 Butts St., has been one of the most vocal opponents of the turbine, appearing before the council numerous times and writing letters of objection dating back to March 2009. Her standing complaint is that elected officials didn’t do enough research before putting the matter before voters.
“In 2009 when that thing went up, it was devastating to see it there,” said Ms. Brooks, adding she Immediately purchased huge pine trees that cost thousands of dollars “just to make me feel better.”
But, she said, “They do nothing for the shadow flicker.”
In the years since the turbine went up, she said, more evidence has come out about the negative effects they have on residents who live nearby.
“It really should be put to rest,” said Ms. Brooks. “My biggest frustration is that the town is doing everything it can to push this through.”
Ms. Olszewski and her husband, Tony, have traveled to other communities to talk about the negative impact turbines have on nearby residents. In 2011, when the turbine was still running, Mr. Olszewski shot a video that shows the shadow flicker in several rooms of their house and outside.
Council member Joseph Robicheau described the video, which can be viewed below, as “pretty stunning.”
“When I saw that shadow flicker, I hadn’t been warned,” said Ms. Olszewski, adding she trusted the town to warn her ahead of time of the flicker, which she said causes headaches and makes it difficult to sleep. “You shouldn’t have done this. There is no excuse to do this to the people in the neighborhood. I can’t go through this again.”
Her husband agreed and said the turbine should come down and not be replaced. “Letting a private company come in here through the back door … without going through the state, the proper channels (is) wrong,” said Mr. Olszewski. “You can’t let them do that.”
Although neither one lives close to the turbine, two other residents spoke in support of people who live near the high school.
Peter Roberts told the council that shadow flicker can make people sick. “This stuff is bad for people,” he said. “Find a location where it won’t bother people. The people who live there have a right to have a normal life.”
Judi Staven said when she first laid eyes on the turbine, she wondered how it could be so close to houses in the area. She also said the machines are too noisy.
“You’d never get any peace at your house,” said Ms. Staven, who suggested taking the blades off the turbine and using the structure for some other purpose, such as a cell tower.
Stephen Brusini, attorney for WED, said the company is committed to being a good neighbor and is sympathetic to residents’ concerns.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to make that turbine as neighbor-friendly as possible,” he said, before adding that the company cannot promise zero impact because of its location, which WED did not choose. “We’re happy to work with the neighbors.”
Shadow flicker, he said, happens at certain parts of the day when the sun hits the blades at a particular angle. WED could program the turbine to shut down during those periods when the flicker is most noticeable, he said. The company’s goal is to produce “no more” flicker than the existing turbine, he said, and less flicker is the goal.
Mr. Olszewski responded, “The phrase ‘no more’ is not good enough.”
As far as noise goes, Mr. Brusini said the new turbine will use a completely different technology. He invited residents to visit WED’s 413-foot-tall turbine in North Kingstown, which towers above company president Mark DePasquale’s home on Thornton Way. (The next-closest neighbor is 430 feet away.)
“Stand directly below that turbine and you won’t hear any noise,” he said.
Ms. Olszewski countered that to get a more accurate sense of noise levels, one must walk around a turbine. Mr. DePasquale agreed, but noted that while there’s more noise in the rear of the North Kingstown turbine, the sound levels are still very low.
“There hasn’t been one complaint in North Kingstown,” said Mr. DePasquale.