Push made for wider study of turbine noise
State officials have agreed to measure noise levels in neighborhoods surrounding Kingston’s Independence wind turbine, and local leaders are lobbying to expand the commitment to include areas abutting three other industrial wind machines located nearby.
But while turbine neighbors are happy to hear a sound study is on the way, they say they are concerned the work will be done not by the state but by a quasi-public agency whose focus is the promotion and development of renewable-energy projects.
The four machines in Kingston, which stand more than 400 feet tall, have been the source of numerous complaints from abutters, who say the whirring blades are causing health issues ranging from ringing ears and chronic headaches to vertigo and sleep disturbance.
Last month, the town’s Board of Health asked state environmental officials to study noise levels.
Such studies, including two now underway in Falmouth and Fairhaven, have been handled by the state Department of Environmental Protection, since the agency carries the authority to enforce state regulations regarding sound.
But environmental officials have assigned the Kingston study to the Clean Energy Center, prompting more complaints from turbine neighbors.
“This sound study is being done in response to real, legitimate complaints from residents about existing turbines,” said Country Club Way resident Tim Dwyer, a member of Kingston Wind Aware, a citizens group lobbying to shut down the local turbines until a new permit review process is conducted. “I’m surprised that the entity chosen to make the sound assessment is an agency created to promote clean energy like wind turbines.”
Dwyer said the Clean Energy Center has a vested interest in the study because “it could impact future wind turbine projects.”
Edmund Coletta, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, dismissed Dwyer’s complaint over possible bias.
The center is “charged with doing sound monitoring, and a consultant will be hired to do it,” he said. “I’m sure it will be completely reviewed and vetted.”
Coletta said his agency is not doing the study itself because it is tied up doing sound measurements elsewhere.
“We have enough resources to complete a study in Falmouth and continue a study in Fairhaven, but we decided this was an opportunity for the Clean Energy Center to do the Kingston one,” he said. “They may consult with us on it, on how our sound regulations are interpreted, but we won’t be active in collecting data.”
Eric Macaux, spokesman for the Clean Energy Center, conceded his agency has historically handled preconstruction studies estimating the noise impact of proposed turbines, rather than post-construction measurement of noise caused by existing turbines.
But that shouldn’t matter, he said, adding his agency’s role is limited to data collection.
“We aren’t fulfilling the role of DEP,” Macaux said. “We’re not doing compliance testing. It will be up to the developer or DEP, if they want to make use of it.”
Kingston Town Planner Tom Bott said meetings between the town and Clean Energy Center representatives only began last week, but he is hopeful state officials will agree to extend the scope of the sound study to include neighborhoods near all four industrial turbines in the town.
“Studies were done prior to the installation of the turbines,” Bott said. “We’re saying, ‘Go back to those places where the microphones were placed and measure the sound now.’”
Residents recently expressed concern about the proximity of the turbines to the town’s elementary and intermediate school complex. Bott said the town will request sound measurements from that location as well.
“People say, ‘Why don’t you just shut the turbines down?’’’ Bott said. “But there has to be identified harm coming from the turbines. Then there’s something to talk about.”
The town’s request to expand the study will be considered when it is formally submitted to the Clean Energy Center, according to Macaux.
The agency will begin its work by setting the scope of the study and gathering bids from technical consultants. Sound measurements take about two weeks to complete. Data is then analyzed. “I would expect early results three to four months from now,” Macaux said.
In Falmouth, health complaints related to noise from two local wind turbines prompted a lengthy sound study that is just being wrapped up by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Falmouth officials had ordered both turbines shut down at night before state testing even started, in reaction to complaints from abutting homeowners. Subsequent testing at night by environmental officials showed one turbine did exceed the state’s maximum noise level, which is 10 decibels above background sound.
Both turbines remain shut down at night, according to Town Manager Julian Suso.
The Department of Environmental Protection is completing its analysis of daytime noise, which will then be presented to the town.
Study of a Fairhaven wind turbine, also prompted by complaints from abutters, began two weeks ago, Coletta said.
Christine Legere can be reached at email@example.com.