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Scituate Board of Health to decide how to study wind turbine

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 25, 2013 04:16 PM

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A committee formed to determine the scope of a study on the health effects of Scituate's wind turbine was unable to reach a consensus, and the town's Board of Health now will make that decision.

The Steering Committee, consisting of town officials, turbine owners, and people who lived near the turbine, was appointed last November by health officials to decide how the turbine’s effects should be reviewed.

Yet despite several meetings, most recently on Jan. 15, residents on the committee still want a larger study than turbine owners are willing to provide.

“Once again, we basically reinforced the point to other members that the multifaceted approach that we were espousing and the broader approach in each category … had to be embraced,” said Tom Thompson, a spokesperson for community members who say the turbine is harming their health.

Community members have pushed for a three-pronged approach to studying the 400-foot-tall energy producer, which was installed with town permission in January 2012 and has been operating since March.

The first prong would be a thorough sound analysis that would look beyond the state- mandated sound levels, taking into account different ways of measuring sound to fully understand the impacts of the turbine.

The group also wants a shadow flicker study provided – one that would not only measure the turbine’s shadow flicker output vs. what was expected in models, but also review and understand the health effects of the flicker itself.

Third, group members have pushed for a survey to be taken of nearby residents to fully understand how the turbine affects them.

“There has been no previous study completed, be it acoustic, shadow flicker or health impact related, since the industrial wind turbine became operational,” Thompson said. “What [was done] is flawed modeling that was utilized as part of the approval process, that grossly understated both the actual noise and shadow flicker emanating from the wind turbine."

According to Thompson, the three-pronged approach would most likely show that the turbine is not operating within its current guidelines, and is harming residents’ health. But he said the town isn't willing to embrace that approach.

“It points to the larger issue, that the town and the Board of Health are very concerned about the economic implications of shutting that turbine down, and I think their biggest concern is they don’t want to be sued for breach of contract,” Thompson said. “They will continue to delay…things for that exact reason.”

Yet according to Gordon Dean, president of Palmer Capital and owner of the Scituate turbine, the acoustical study that his side of the group has suggested would accurately determine if there is a problem with the way the turbine operates.

Furthermore, Dean said he was confident in the state and town guidelines for noise requirements, and that if the turbine met those guidelines, it would prove the machine is safe to the public.

“I think its safe to the public, absolutely,” he said. “There’s a noise standard that’s applicable to all business, all power plants, all basic activities in the state. I don’t know why they would try to carve out wind and make it a different standard.”

Already, the Steering Committee has been looking at engineers who could do a study.

Dean said he has provided the group with a list of seven engineers who could do the work. The resident group has yet to provide one.

But Thompson sees a more fundamental problem.

“We’re putting together a list of people that could handle the acoustical part of this. But it seems to be a waste of time to do an analysis on acoustical engineers when you can’t get an agreement on scope,” he said.

Regardless, Board of Health officials will meet on Jan. 28 to determine next steps, which could include setting a scope of work themselves, and possibly moving forward with a contractor.

Dean said he is looking to more ahead.

“We would like to put it behind us. We’d like to feel that the study we know needs to be done - to determine compliance - will be accepted by people. We’re disappointed that we haven’t been able to figure out where to do sampling and what conditions, but it’s par for the course.”

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