'We didn’t decide to put a turbine there.'
PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — Responding to criticism aired at two recent Town Council meetings about the noise and shadows generated by the town wind turbine, the chairman of the company that owns it said the machine is operating the same, if not better, than the first turbine that stood there.
Mark DePasquale, the founder and chairman of Green Development LLC, submitted written testimony to Town Hall. He could not attend the council meeting March 12 because he had to monitor how the nor’easter that swept in that night affected the company’s turbines.
Residents petitioned the council to force the company to mitigate the noise of the machine and the repeated shadows cast by its spinning blades, known as flicker. Council President Keith Hamilton urged the residents to deal directly with the company. “We have leased out the property and it is currently the responsibility of the developer and the turbine owner to mitigate the issues,” he said.
Complaints fall into one of two baskets: those about conditions resulting from the turbine and those about its mere presence, according to Green Development CEO Al Bucknam. The company can address the former, but not the latter.
“We didn’t decide to put a turbine there,” he said over the phone Tuesday. “We came to fix a problem for the town. If someone has an issue, unless it’s materially worse than it was — and it’s not — their issue is with the town.”
The 279-foot-tall turbine started running in August 2016 near Portsmouth High School, replacing another company’s turbine that broke down there in 2012. An agreement between Green Development and the town had the company remove the broken turbine, put up the new one and pay off the bond the town used to install the first turbine. The town is buying some of the energy it generates at a rate of 15.5 cents per kilowatt hour for 25 years.
A broken gear box rendered the first turbine inoperable; the turbine there now does not have a gear box.
“When I paid the town’s debt off, the most important thing was we would not give any additional impact to the neighborhood,” DePasquale said over the phone Tuesday. “My job is to make sure it’s not worse.”
Noise levels should be “almost identical” between the two turbines, according to DePasquale. Some neighbors have said the “quality” of the noise is better now because there is no gear box.
A lighting strike that recently hit one of the blades might be responsible for the recent uptick in noise complaints, DePasquale said. A crew will head up soon to inspect and repair the piece of steel that was marked. Turbine blades hit by lighting strikes is not an uncommon occurrence, Bucknam and DePasquale said.
The turbine was also shut off for a stretch of days a couple of weeks ago because of an issue with a mechanism that is not part of the turbine itself.
They urged residents with complaints to contact the company to find solutions, such as vegetative screens and thick blinds to dull the flicker. More drastic measures, such as shutting down the turbine during certain stretches, will cost the town money.
When DePasquale has met with some residents in the area, they want to know what he will do for the whole neighborhood. The rest of their neighbors are not complaining, though, he explained.
A meeting with company officials and residents will be held Thursday, April 12, at 6 p.m. at Town Hall, they said.
DePasquale said in his testimony that four residents have contacted the company between Feb. 13 and March 11. Three of them, David Souza, John Vegas and Denise Wilkey, have addressed the council to voice their complaints. The fourth, Councilor Paul Kesson, has recused himself from the matter. A few other individuals voiced their frustration at the March 12 meeting.
DePasquale’s testimony described the company’s interactions with the four residents and chronicled their complaints about the turbine.
The noise level of the two turbines is the same, said Vegas, a Sprague Street resident, but the type of noise is different, according to the testimony.
“Noise comes from blades swooping near the tower, whereas with the old turbine he could hear the mechanism producing noise,” the testimony explained. Flicker impacts his home about 30 hours per year, it continued, but there is no vegetation that could possibly block the shadows.
Souza, who lives on Lowell Drive, said the flicker that occurs around 3 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. in the spring and fall disturbs him, the testimony states. His decibel reader registers around 55 decibels at the turbine’s loudest around 3 a.m. Kesson also noted how loud the turbine is late at night.
Wilkey “expressed her overall discontent with the turbine and claimed it has hurt her quality of life,” according to the testimony.
The expected flicker streaming into Vegas’ home is expected to last about 17 hours a year, 25 minutes fewer than when the former turbine ran. Under the worst case scenario, his home would sustain about 62 hours of flicker per year, about four hours fewer than under the old turbine.
For Souza’s home, the expected flicker in a year is about 21 hours, about an hour-plus more than conditions under the former turbine.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” Bucknam said. The company will do “what it can within economic reason.”
“I care about the people,” added DePasquale. “I know I can help some of them.”