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In Scituate, scope of wind turbine study up for debate

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 8, 2013 04:06 PM

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A community group concerned about the siting of an industrial turbine along Scituate’s Driftway is pressing for a larger study of the turbine’s effects, despite resistance from the town and turbine owners.

The disagreement is the latest in an argument in numerous South Shore towns over the health consequences of turbines, and may help yield concrete evidence on whether the health effects of the machines.

In Scituate, a study has been planned since November after numerous residents came forward complaining of health problems due to the noise from the energy-producing machine.

Though the community group pressed for the turbine to be temporarily shut down, Board of Health members decided to keep the turbine running.

Talks have been ongoing since then between community members, Board of Health officials, and the turbine owners to determine the scope of such a study. So far, opinions are varied.

For turbine owners, a study would help prove that the machine is operating at noise levels within its permit. But for residents, the analysis is more about proving that the turbine is detrimental to their health.

“What [turbine owner Scituate Wind LLC] is proposing is not an accurate acoustical analysis of what’s happening with that wind turbine. And they want to stay focused on their very limited acoustical study, but the problems…also deal with shadow flicker,” said Tom Thompson, a spokesperson for the community group.

Furthermore, Thompson said, a health questionnaire to be put out by a sleep disorder expert to nearby residents, is a key component of analyzing the turbine’s effects.

“But the wind developer wants no part of that,” Thompson said. “We’re not prepared to extract those key elements from the study.”

For their part, turbine owners aren’t prepared to fund such a broad look at the turbine.

According to Gordon Dean, president of Palmer Capital and owner of the turbine, the state Department of Environmental Protection has already outlined what a study looking at noise pollution would look like. At this point, the group’s desires are above and beyond that request, he said.

“Things the community group want to be studied [are] more of a research project and not a compliance project, which we said we would fund as we’re required to under our special permit,” Dean said.

A resolution seems far off, with no agreement on issues as basic as where to conduct testing.

Despite hangups, town officials are optimistic that some sort of resolution can be reached, and soon.

“We first have to decide how we’re going to handle it… so we’ll see,” said Jennifer Sullivan, director of public health for the town. “But the town wants to know the results so we know if Scituate Wind is in compliance or not - not only within noise pollution but within their special permit to operate. It is important to us.”

As for the larger aspects to a potential noise study, Sullivan said town officials aren’t in a position to force turbine developers into one.

“[The noise study suggested by the community group] is more than needs to be done to determine compliance with the noise pollution regulations,” Sullivan said. “Scituate Wind has already said they will not fund the flicker study, so that would be something the town would have to decide upon. I haven’t got funding in my budget for it.”

Sullivan said there may be a possibility of the town participating in a study being conducted by the Massachusetts Center for Clean Energy, which may look more closely at some of the sound analysis residents are hoping for.

“But we’ll see what happens. This proposal is from the energy center is in draft form and is brand new and we’re still studying it,” Sullivan said.

All the stakeholders will meet again in a Jan. 15 meeting at 10 a.m. to attempt to resolve the scope of the study.

A report will be sent later in the month to the Board of Health, which would be able to authorize a study.

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