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Scituate wind community hopeful, skeptical of developing turbine regulations

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  July 5, 2013 02:04 PM

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A state program developing wind-turbine regulations may change where and how turbines are operated -- a proposal that has evoked mixed reactions in Scituate.

“I’m pleased that they are finally looking at it and hiring some experts,” said Gordon Deane, owner of Scituate’s turbine and others in the South Shore. “I think guidelines, especially for local officials that don’t have experience in these areas, can only be helpful.”

Meanwhile, neighbors who have banded together in the last year to protest Scituate’s turbine are skeptical that new regulations will do much good.

“If it’s done properly and appropriately, it’s a good step forward. It’s something that probably should have been done a long time ago,” said Tom Thompson, spokesman for the neighborhood group. “… I would probably be a bit more comfortable with this initiative if we also would see the MassDEP, Patrick administration, and others actually aggressively trying to enforce existing noise-compliance roles, which it really hasn’t done.”

The new initiative, sponsored by the Patrick administration, will bring together several state agencies to develop tools for communities looking into turbine power, such as acoustic policies specific to turbines, siting guidelines, and monitoring practices

“The governor has been very clear that we support onshore wind where it’s appropriately sited, meaning it has to have buy in and support at the local level,” said Richard Sullivan, secretary of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “For a community to decide if they will support development of wind, they need the best practices, standards, and need some reliability that if projects are built, they have standards and will be built as advertised and as promised.”

Though some may question the development of guidelines after several turbines are already operating in the state, Sullivan said that the timing was right.

“There’s a critical mass that’s been deployed in different areas of the state. There is enough data to look at best practices,” he said.

That information, coupled with new data compiled by a bevy of technical experts, will be analyzed by a wind working group. Representatives from Office of Energy and Environemntal Affairs (EEA), the Department of Energy Resource (DOER), the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) will all be on board.

First off, MassDEP will be developing a scope of work, Sullivan said. Within the following year, additional data will be collected and recommendations will be developed.

Regardless of what is ultimately determined, Sullivan said the results will affect existing turbines as well as future ones.

“We’ve had conversations with town officials in Scituate and provided the technical support. If [the turbine] is not operating within the best practices, it will be incumbent upon us to find ways to support the project and find, working with the developer, other alterations or mitigations so it’s operating within the standards or best practices,” Sullivan said.

The regulation development is occurring alongside a study to ensure Scituate’s turbine is operating within existing noise guidelines. Though new regulations might lead to changes for Scituate, Deane wasn’t overly worried.

“It’s a little late to change permits for existing projects,” he said. “If they are constructed, you won’t pick it up and move it 100 feet.”

As for acoustic regulations, Deane had some concerns that sound would be measured differently under new guidelines, but was interested in what the study would recommend.

“Both sides of the debate would like this looked at a bit more carefully,” he said.

The plan seems to fall in line with the hopes of the neighborhood group, which started a national organization in June to influence legislative turbine policy. Yet with a state goal of increasing wind energy by 2020, Thompson said the administration already seems biased in this process.

“If it’s an attempt to go through an exercise when it can be viewed as positive when it's no more than an attempt to support poorly sited industrial turbines, it's not worth the exercise,” Thompson said. “…We’ll have to wait and see.”

Sullivan invited skeptics to be a part of the process, a challenge Thompson wholeheartedly accepted.

In the meantime, Thompson charged the state to be stricter with turbine developers who flew in the face of existing regulations. Although Sullivan cited examples of such action in Falmouth, Thompson pointed to Fairhaven as a place where things have been lax.

“[We] continue to press the admin to start to appropriately enforce existing noise- compliance guidelines,” Thompson said. “When these turbines are found to be noncompliant, to shut them down.”

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