Representatives for the town and a dozen neighbors of its first wind turbine, known as Wind 1, gave closing remarks Thursday, January 28, regarding a special permit application for the turbine. The turbine is currently shut down in accordance with a cease-and-desist order issued by the board in the fall.
The hearing on the application opened in November and has been continued over the course of five meetings before the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals. A full audience has been present for each of the meetings, including many of the same residents, publicly voicing opinions for or against Wind 1’s operation. Opponents argue that the turbine impacts their daily lives by causing symptoms such as sleep disturbance, headaches, stress, mood swings, and difficulty concentrating.
In the two weeks since the last meeting, chairman Kimberly A. Bielan said, the board received more than 100 letters regarding the application—89 in support and 32 in opposition to granting the special permit. To allow time for the attorneys to speak and for the board to review the materials, she said that they would need to set another date to deliberate.
Each attorney was afforded 30 minutes to present.
Representing a dozen neighbors of Wind 1, Christopher Senie presented to the board a proposal that the town planned to offer—a condition that would curtail operation of the turbine at lower wind speeds. He described the proposal as “upside down thinking,” saying that it is based on the assumption that the sound of increasing wind speeds at ground level “masks” the sound pressures produced by a large-blade turbine.
That might be true, Mr. Senie said, “if the wind turbine sound pressure were of the same character as ambient sound.”
However, he said that wind turbine noise has a strong, low-frequency component. Therefore, it should not increase with a rise of ambient sound at ground level.
“All complaints by neighbors have confirmed that distress begins at moderate wind speeds” he said, and worsens as wind speeds increase.
Mr. Senie reiterated his points from previous presentations that the town provided insufficient information about Wind 1 prior to obtaining a building permit and failed to have proper sound testing completed. Additionally, he questioned the “accessory” use of the turbine, as it produces many more kilowatt hours of energy than those used by the wastewater treatment plant it supports.
Overall, he said that the board of selectmen and town officials have worked hard to respond to abutters’ concerns.
“My hat is off to the town of Falmouth…but we need to be smart about how we get out of this mess,” he said.
The town’s attorney, Diane C. Tillotson, maintained that the process of notifying residents about the turbine project began in 2005, five years before Wind 1 was erected.
As to the accessory nature of the turbine, she said, “The fact that it creates more energy [than is needed] does not disqualify it from being accessory use.”
She added that a “fiscally responsible and prudent” town that is spending millions of dollars to erect a wind turbine would be foolish to consider only the present energy needs. The anticipated energy needs of the wastewater treatment plant could exceed the amount produced by both turbines operating at full speed, she said.
Ms. Tillotson advised the zoning board to “disabuse any notion” that it is bound by prior decisions, rely on the evidence presented by experts at the hearing, and when determining whether the turbine is a nuisance, consider the impact on an ordinary person.
“It’s not [defined as] a nuisance on a particularly sensitive individual,” she said.
Of the town’s proposal for curtailing turbine operation, Ms. Tillotson refuted Mr. Senie’s claim that the concept was based on fiction. Upon reaching a certain wind speed, she said, the sound of the wind will “dwarf” the sound of the turbine.
“Once a wind turbine reaches 45 decibels at 42 miles per hour, the wind turbine noise starts dropping off… you’re hearing the wind, you’re not hearing the wind turbine,” she said.
Sound data shows that in most cases, the noise produced by the turbine meets the town’s limit of 40 decibels and the state limit of 10 decibels above background sound at the nearest property line. Ms. Tillotson said that there are exceedances of the town’s “so-called standard of six decibels above ambient” sound, which is part of a wind turbine bylaw established after the turbine was erected, “but that is not a town standard that is applicable to this special permit application.”
Throughout the hearing, she said she does not believe that the board has heard enough about the beneficial qualities of the turbine, which creates clean energy and is financially feasible. Ms. Tillotson said that the adverse impacts of shadow flicker and noise are minor and controllable by conditioning the permit.
“There are a lot of opinions… supporting and opposing this wind turbine project,” she said, noting that the primary issue at hand is the curtailment of sound.
Board members voted to leave the hearing open for written comments from the public—strictly related to testimony heard at Thursday’s meeting—until Monday, February 1, at 4:30 PM. Due to schedule conflicts, they were unable to find a weekday when they could all meet to deliberate. As a result, deliberation on the application will take place on Saturday, February 27, at 9 AM.