SCITUATE -- The town will hire an independent consultant to review the noise generated by the Scituate Wind turbine.
This was the unanimous decision by selectmen after a lengthy discussion among themselves Tuesday, as well as with residents who are being negatively affected by the turbine noise.
“We’ve heard quite a bit of information from all sides,” Selectmen Chairman Maura Curran said. “It’s a touch discussion because Town Meeting approved the wind turbine. We’re trying to balance the needs of the town and the welfare of the residents.”
Neighbors have been complaining about the noise and the flicker from the 400-ft. turbine since it went online in early spring of 2012.
The Scituate Board of Health began tracking the noise complaints and discovered they usually occurred at night in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Most of the complaints were reported when winds were coming from the southwest at less than 10 mph.
In 2016 the town launched a pilot program and turned the turbine off between 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. when the winds were coming from the southwest at less than 10 mph.
According to Health Agent Jennifer Keefe, complaints dropped by 65 percent, but they did not stop.
David Dardi, who lives near the turbine and who had been keeping track of the turbine noise, said the turbine continued to “disrupt the sleep and adversely impact the lives and health of both my neighbors and myself.”
Earlier this month, Selectman John Danehey asked what the cost would be to the taxpayer by shutting down the turbine from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the period of April 15 through Oct. 15.
Acting Town Administrator Al Bangert said the cost to the taxpayer over this past summer would have been $162,855. Over the past five years the annual cost would have been $150,000 plus or minus $25,000 per year depending on wind and energy prices, he said.
“This represents approximately two-thirds of the net taxpayer benefit received from the turbine operation in an average year,” Bangert said.
Based on five years of data, the production of energy from the turbine during the six-month period of April through September averaged 1,300,000 plus or minus 250,000 kilowatt hours (kWh). In the most recent six month period covering April 15 to Oct. 15, production was higher than average, slightly exceeding 1.9 million kWh of which nighttime production between 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. was 571,126 kWh, or 30 percent of the production.
If the increased curtailment were in place for the past six months, the town would have owned Scituate Wind $67,964 based on the lost production. Additionally, over this same period, the rebate paid to the town by National Grid was 16.62 cents per kWh, or $94,921.
The $162,855 total cost to the taxpayer that would have occurred this summer represents 64 percent of the past 12 months of net taxpayer benefit due to increased curtailment.
Bangert also provided an answer to a second question, which asked about the cost of shutting down the turbine only under conditions when the wind blows from the west – i.e., from the SSW thru NNW?
During this past six month period the wind blew from SSW to NNW between the hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. approximately 68 percent of the time, he said. Hence, the cost to the taxpayers would have been $110,762 or 46.5 percent of the past 12 months net benefits to the town.
“Those are the facts,” he said.
Curran said she could support the second question.
“I personally think there is not a large cost you can put on someone’s health and welfare,” she said.
Selectman Karen Canfield said she would support to curtail the use of the turbine from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the summer.
Selectman Tony Vegnani agreed it was a “very difficult situation.”
“The town voted on it, they wanted it to be there; so be it,” said Vegnani, who said he has had several conversations with David Dardi, and has gone to the area where the turbine has been reported to be disturbing.
“To me the noise is minimal,” said Vegnani. “It’s hard to hear sometimes. We know a ton of people who live up there who aren’t impacted at all. But there are people who are affected. It’s a conundrum. ”
Vegnani said there can be a short term fix, but the town will be dealing with the issue for awhile and needs to decide what it’s going to do with this turbine.
“I’m trying to think of the long term,” said Vegnani. “We’re not going to shut it off. If we were to shut it off it would be a huge financial impact for the town.”
Selectman Shawn Harris suggested looking into possible mitigation or some type of buffer. He also brought up the idea of having a new company perform another test on the turbine.
“We all want it,” Harris said of the turbine and the financial benefit it brings to the town. “And we all want our residents not to be disrupted.