Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals, after a fourth and hours-long meeting, will continue its hearing on a special permit for Wind 1, one of the town’s wind turbines, on Thursday, January 28.
Residents filled the selectmen’s meeting room at town hall last Thursday, January 14, to address the town’s special permit for Wind 1. The turbine, erected in 2010, is one of two identical 1.65-megawatt turbines on Blacksmith Shop Road. Wind 1 was ordered shut down by the board in September in response to an appeal by turbine neighbors.
Peter Guldberg of Tech Environmental, Inc. opened Thursday’s testimony with a presentation on sound measurements of turbine noise.
He said that throughout its communication with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Town of Falmouth has received conflicting information about appropriate methods of measuring sound. In one instance, he said, the department compared two different types of measurements, which can create a “phantom” increase in the level of noise.
“My advice to the board is to stick with the written state policy,” Mr. Guldberg said.
While state regulations restrict noise to 10 decibels above background sound, the town limits noise to six decibels. Mr. Guldberg brought a sound level meter to allow the board to hear the nearly inaudible difference that six decibels makes.
The town bylaw also limits noise to a total of 40 decibels at the nearest property line to each turbine. While Mr. Guldberg saw no measurements of turbine sound exceeding the limit—except for one instance in June, which could be explained by stormy weather —he said that the regulation was impossible to enforce, as it does not include a specific metric or time period.
Board chairman Kimberly A. Bielan asked whether the difference of six decibels would be more decipherable on a greater scale, as with the noise created by the turbine. Mr. Guldberg said that it would be exactly the same as the noise recorded by the sound meter.
Board member Kenneth Foreman asked whether he was defining loudness as sound pressure. Mr. Guldberg said that loudness is a “subjective perception.”
Diane C. Tillotson, attorney for the Town of Falmouth, showed a video taken both inside the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility and outside near the turbine to allow the board to hear the noise that Wind 1 produces. Aside from background noise, the room was quiet.
She invited Dr. Robert J. McCunney, a physician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston and the director of environmental medicine at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, to speak on potential health implications from living near wind turbines.
“Some people are not bothered at all and others are,” he said.
He said that attitudes toward wind turbines’ impact on visual scenery, attitudes toward turbines in general, whether people benefit financially from the presence of turbines, personality characteristics, and other personal factors lead people to report annoyance, according to epidemiological studies.
Dr. McCunney pointed to the nocebo effect as one reason why some people report turbine nuisances. He said that there have been individuals who have reported symptoms such as lack of sleep prior to a turbine even being erected.
Sometimes, he said that people are affected by recall bias. They believe that they felt “terrific” before a turbine was erected and “awful” afterward, which may not be accurate or attributable to the turbine.
Dr. McCunney referred to a 2014 Health Canada study, which determined that there is no evidence of an association between wind turbine noise and health effects. The study included residents of southwest Ontario and focused on sleep, quality of life and stress, he said, finding no impact in any of the focus areas.
When asked if he has interviewed any turbine abutters in his research, Dr. McCunney said that he has not, but he has carefully reviewed published work on the subject.
Representing some neighbors of Wind 1, attorney Christopher Senie reminded the board of an interim decision made by Barnstable Superior Court Judge Christopher J. Muse, relating to a turbine appeal.
The board should apply its own standards of whether there could be an offensive effect on surrounding persons to determine whether Wind 1 is considered a nuisance, Mr. Senie read from a handout he prepared.
He spoke on sound data that was presented by acoustic engineer Christopher Menge of Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc. at a previous meeting. The measurements were based on an eight-meter-per-second wind speed, Mr. Senie said, because that was the maximum speed according to data published by Vestas, the company that manufactured Wind 1.
Mr. Senie used regulations on turbine sound power levels and setbacks to argue that the Falmouth turbine should be located farther from its neighbors. Describing the modulated infrasound produced by the structure with “peak-to-trough” separations, he said, “The pressures are coming inside of homes, and they are noticeable.”
Almost 20 residents, including town officials and committee members, spoke during a public comment session—many had commented at one or more of the prior meetings.
Todd A. Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road directed board members to a section of the town bylaw, as it relates to nuisances, that states that no permit shall be granted for any use that is destructive of property values. He passed handouts to the board with information from Clancy Appraisal Company in Falmouth on the declining values of various turbine abutters’ properties.
Hamlin Avenue resident Anastasia Karplus, who participated in the Falmouth Wind Turbine Option Analysis Process on the long-term future of the turbines, said that the group spent several meetings discussing the production of the turbines.
Falmouth High School, she said, uses about a million kilowatt hours, the wastewater treatment facility uses about a million and a half, an ice arena likely uses between one and two million, and a single-family house uses about 11,000.
“The production of these wind turbines is very efficient from an energy perspective,” she said.
Diane Funfar, whose home on Ridgeview Drive neighbors the turbines, said that the abutters do not dislike the turbines or wind power—however, they hear and feel them every time they are running. For the past six years, she said she has experienced deteriorating health.
“These machines have destroyed our lives, as we know it,” she said.
Former town wastewater superintendent Gerald Potamis, who is now retired, asked the board whether the town needed to satisfy the bylaw that was in place when Wind 1 was erected or the current bylaw.
“I think the board is bound by the regulation and not past practice that may not have a bearing on the facts in front of you,” he said.
The board is applying the old bylaw, former board member Matthew McNamara said, “but you’re not going back in time to 2008. Everything you know about this wind turbine, you apply to this special permit.”
J. Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive used the projector to display an e-mail correspondence he had shown at the previous meeting, in which Mr. Guldberg requested a Massachusetts Clean Energy Center employee’s attendance at a meeting on how to handle organized opposition to community wind projects.
Mr. Guldberg immediately rose from the audience and said that it was a personal e-mail that Mr. Donald had stolen.
“This is a personal attack that he has against me,” he said, shouting.
Ms. Bielan had to raise her voice over Mr. Donald’s, to order him to close the e-mail and return to his seat.
Following comments by a few more residents, including selectman Rebecca Moffit, Falmouth Board of Selectmen chairman Douglas A. Jones was allowed time to speak. He said that the selectmen promote the project as serving the best interests of the town, stressing that the wind turbine project has been endorsed by Town Meeting “no less than eight times.”
The location of Wind 1 was chosen carefully, Mr. Jones said, and the town expects the demand for energy at the nearby wastewater treatment facility to grow. However, he said that the board also takes neighbors’ concern seriously.
“We remain committed to resolving these concerns in a reasonable manner,” he said.
The board voted to continue the hearing next Thursday, January 28, at 5:30 PM.