Doreen Reilly said her family can’t sleep at night because the wind turbine less than 1,000 feet away sounds like a “jet liner hovering” over her Kingston home. During the day, Reilly said, she gets headaches because the spinning blades from the 400-foot-tall structure cause sunlight to flash like “a strobe light” throughout her home.
“You can’t escape it,” said the Leland Road resident. “I’m very concerned for my family and their health.”
A few streets over, on Copper Beech Drive, David Kennedy said his wife gets headaches from the moving shadows inside their home, and their children have trouble concentrating when this flickering occurs. In November, he filed five complaints with the Kingston Board of Health.
Amid a nationwide push toward wind power and other “green” energy sources, Reilly, Kennedy, and others in towns such as Scituate, Fairhaven, and Falmouth are among a small but growing number of people voicing concerns about wind turbines.
They worry about the long-term health effects of living so close to the machines, and question whether they belong in densely populated neighborhoods. Some say they’ve experienced sleep loss, migraine headaches, ringing ears, and increased blood pressure since wind turbines were installed near their homes.
Such complaints have often been met skeptically by wind-power advocates and the public at large, many of whom assume the complaints of noise, vibrations, and moving shadows are being exaggerated by a gaggle of NIMBYs.
According to wind-power advocates, turbines are far better for the environment and people’s health compared with fossil fuels.
“Wind power is the most affordable zero-emission source available,” said Larry Chretien, a Quincy resident and executive director of the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance. Wind power produces “no carbon dioxide, no sulfur, no nitrogen, no particulates . . . . all things that cause problems with the planet and public health.”
Chretien acknowledged that “we are hearing complaints in a couple of locations” from people who live near turbines, but said that most wind projects, such as those in Hull, Ipswich, and most recently, Gloucester, have been successful and enjoy plenty of local support.
“In our viewpoint, 90 percent of [wind turbine] projects are sited responsibly and very much contribute to their communities,” he said.
Most wind turbines have been uncontroversial. Health and planning officials in Bourne, Everett, Ipswich, Medford, Plymouth, and Wrentham said they haven’t received any complaints about the turbines in their communities. (In Everett’s case, the turbine is located in Charlestown.)
Still, out of the 16 communities in Eastern Massachusetts that have working turbines, at least five — Kingston, Scituate, Newburyport, Fairhaven, and Falmouth — have residents who say that turbines near their homes have caused health problems.
Previous studies have shown that wind turbines may cause sounds that disrupt sleep, which can, over time, lead to various health problems. However, evidence showing a direct link between turbines and specific health problems is lacking. But in the wake of growing complaints, more research is on the way.
A few towns north of Kingston, some residents in Scituate have come forward with complaints about the 400-foot-tall turbine that began operating on the Driftway last April.
The real problem lies in zoning, said Christopher Senie, a Westborough-based attorney who has represented neighborhood groups opposed to wind turbine projects in Ashburnham, Brewster, Bourne, Dartmouth, Duxbury, Falmouth, Kingston, Marion, Plymouth, Salem, and Wareham.
“Zoning is not doing a good job with wind turbines,” he said. “It’s a new use we really weren’t ready for. . . . The problem is, we got so enthusiastic about [wind power], and there wasn’t the zoning in place.”
Senie represents 10 Kingston residents who claim to be suffering from the noise, vibrations, and spinning blades of the turbines, mostly at night. (Reilly and Kennedy are not among his clients.)
According to Senie, Cape Cod planning officials have determined that the distance between homes and turbines should be at least 10 times the diameter of the rotating blades. So a wind turbine with blades measuring 282 feet across would require a minimum setback of 2,820 feet. In Kingston, Fairhaven, Falmouth, and Scituate, several homes are inside that range.
Scituate’s director of public health, Jennifer L. Sullivan, said her office has received complaints from “15 different people,” mostly regarding noise, flicker, and sleep disruption. “We’re still in the discovery phase,” she said. “We’re going to have some testing done.”Continued...