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WAREHAM

Another setback for wind power

Turbines, trimmed from 8 to 2, shot down

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / February 23, 2012
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A plan to build eight power-generating wind turbines on bogs in Wareham was whittled to two smaller wind machines over the past 16 months due to opposition from neighbors, but apparently those concessions still weren’t enough.

In the latest example of how alternative-energy projects are meeting with resistance in a number of communities south of Boston, Bog Wind failed to win the support of the Wareham Zoning Board of Appeals. After seven public hearings over 16 months, the board unanimously denied a special permit for the two turbines requested by Beaufort Windpower on bogs off Charge Pond Road. Beaufort has until early next month to appeal the decision, filed Feb. 15.

Company president Glen Berkowitz declined to say whether he will attempt to overcome the decision when contacted late last week, but in a December letter to the board, Berkowitz stated that Bog Wind “meets or exceeds every requirement of the town’s wind energy facilities bylaw’’ and “as such, this project is entitled to be approved.’’

Zoning board chairman Kenneth Ferreira said his panel made its ruling after listening to hours of testimony from abutters and specialists. In the board’s written denial, it states members were particularly influenced by the opposing side’s testimony on sound and vibration based on a recent study of a Falmouth wind turbine project by an acoustics specialist.

“In the end, we were simply not convinced that we could adequately condition the project to protect the residents most affected from potential health and safety risks,’’ Ferreira said in an e-mail to the Globe. “We were certainly in favor of clean renewable energy, but the health risks created a reasonable doubt.’’

In its six-page denial, the board said it had received “convincing arguments’’ from the opposition regarding noise and vibration generated by the turbines even though the machines, measuring 398 feet from base to blade tip, would be located a considerable distance beyond the town’s bylaw requirements. The panel came to the same conclusion regarding the shadow/flicker impact caused by the turbines’ whirling blades.

Barry Cosgrove, a member of a group of opponents fighting Bog Wind, expressed relief over the zoning board’s decision.

“We found the zoning board to be incredibly competent,’’ he said. “They got it right and they deserve a lot of credit.’’

Attorney Christopher Senie, who has helped turbine opponents in several area communities, represented Wareham residents during the hearings, presenting testimony regarding the effects of low-frequency noise generated by turbines. Senie helped residents stop a wind turbine under consideration in Duxbury, which was taken off the table last month.

In Plymouth, Senie represents property owners appealing a special permit for four wind turbines planned for bogs owned by cranberry grower Keith Mann. Peter Conner, chairman of the Plymouth Zoning Board of Appeals, said none of the turbines permitted by his panel have been built.

State Senate President Therese Murray, a Plymouth resident, last week weighed in on another proposed turbine in her hometown, on Hedges Pond Road. The proposal for a 300-foot turbine is pending before the zoning board.

“I have heard many valid and justified concerns about the possible effects and risks turbines may have on those living in close proximity to them,’’ Murray wrote in a Feb. 15 letter to the board. She urged board members to take the concerns of residents seriously.

“It is my strong belief that industrial-size wind turbines do not belong in residential neighborhoods,’’ she wrote. “No one should be subject to unnecessary discomfort as a result of any turbine, and we need to site these projects responsibly.’’

Conner said the turbines his board permits must be on solid ground legally. “The Plymouth bylaw’s intention, as written, is to look at these things as whether they are defensible,’’ he said. “If it impacts residential areas enough, you have to say no, not here. They can’t detract from the neighborhood or the town as a whole.’’

State environmental and health agencies recently commissioned a study of the health impact believed related to the noise, vibration, or flicker caused by wind turbines. The study results, released in mid-January, dismissed claims of connections between serious health impact and turbines. The panel conducting the study consisted of seven specialists with backgrounds in public health, epidemiology, toxicology, neurology and sleep medicine, neuroscience, and mechanical engineering.

The report, which is the subject of public comment until mid-March, has drawn considerable outcry from the public. It can be accessed at www.mass.gov/dep.energy/windpanel.htm/dep/energy/wind/panel.htm.

In the announcement of the study results, Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Edmund Colletta said the study’s purpose was “to help address questions that have been raised by members of the public about human health impacts associated with proximity to wind turbines.’’

Not all area turbine projects have been poorly received. Kingston, for instance, has embraced wind energy. Businesswoman Mary O’Donnell has constructed three wind turbines spinning on land off Route 3. The town has a fourth on the former landfill property adjacent to O’Donnell’s. And a fifth turbine has been built by the state Department of Transportation near the local rail station’s layover yard.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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