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Scituate turbine now has state and local studies; residents skeptical of both

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  February 28, 2013 05:28 PM

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Jean Piers

Acoustical monitoring equipment was the first sign that a noise study on Scituate's turbine was taking place

Just as town officials get going on a study to analyze how noisy Scituate’s wind turbine is, state regulators have stepped in with a similar undertaking.

Residents have been well aware of the local study, being conducted by turbine owners and still in the early stages. But earlier this week, they were surprised to see sound equipment located at the Widow’s Walk Golf Course.

Being conducted by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and started in November, the study is looking at several turbines throughout Massachusetts.

“It is studying acoustics - noise relative to turbines,” said turbine owner Gordon Dean, who had proposed the study to residents. “It’s just looking to get us more research on these projects.”

Residents rejected the idea, however, favoring a more local approach. But since the town’s Board of Health decided on a smaller analysis for the local study, Dean said he gave his blessing for the town to be a part of the state’s project.

“Once the Board of Health said they would do a compliance study and not a research study, because we didn’t want competing groups out there, we told MassCEC they could go ahead and do their study,” Dean said.

According to the MassCEC website, the study is meant to better understand the sound impact of wind technology under a variety of conditions.

The study will also enable legislators a better basis for testing turbines both before and after construction.

Matt Kakley, a media spokesperson for MassCEC, said the organization has hired Research Systems Group, which has been conducting studies around the state.
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Although occurring almost simultaneously, this study differs from the one being done by the turbine owners, which is measuring sound levels at specific locations and under specific conditions.

Just on Monday, Board of Health officials met with Dean to discuss final aspects of what the study should look at, a timeline, and possible engineers for the project.

“We submitted a draft RFP to the Board of Health and they provided some comments at the meeting,” Dean said. “We have redrafted it, sent it to them for final comments, so we could try to get it out.”

The Request for Proposal will go out to nine engineers – five recommended by the wind owner and four by a community group whose members say they are affected by the turbine.

According to Dean, the goal is to select a consultant by the end of March and conduct the study in April, before spring noises and leaves start interfering with the results.

“We’d like to get this behind us, also it’s best that this testing be done before spring hits us,” Dean said.

However, community groups don’t like the idea of either study.

“We don’t believe this is the all-encompassing acoustical study that should be in place,” Tom Thompson, a representative of the community group, said about the latest developments with the state.

For one thing, the state’s study won’t be used to measure the turbine’s compliance with regulations, Thompson said. If anything, the results will only enable the state to make regulations more lenient.

The $400,000 study is also biased, Thompson said.

“Mass CEC’s mandate is to accelerate clean energy and technology; they are very much a proponent, supporter, and apologist of wind energy,” Thompson said.

Residents also remain skeptical of the town’s study.

“The group that has the most to lose if the acoustical study doesn’t demonstrate compliance is the one drafting its own RFP with the support of the BOH, and will ultimately have a significant voice,” Thompson said. “It’s all just a sham, it's nothing more than that.”

Residents also pointed to a recent controversy in Fairhaven, where acoustical studies done alongside the Department of Environmental Protection's were found to contain operating errors.

In a letter to the DEP, Dean admitted that though the blades of the turbine had been spinning during that study, the turbine wasn’t generating power, which lessened the noise of the turbine during analysis.

Although residents point to that as evidence that the turbine operators are tampering with the study, Dean maintains that the mechanical error was just that – an error.

“I can’t say that errors will not happen,” Dean said. “What I will say is that we have been fully transparent. This data had been provided to Mass DEP and it’s actually the reason this was found was because the data was posted on the website, to the public.

"We hadn’t noticed it, neither had MassDEP. It was brought to our attention, it was investigated, there was a problem. We’re not sure why the generator didn’t engage…but we will try to be more careful and watch for that in the future.”

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