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Disputed, preliminary Scituate turbine test results show no noise violation

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 29, 2013 04:27 PM

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With one night of turbine noise testing under its belt, Scituate’s Board of Health may already be looking at changing the testing criteria.

The board has been looking at a change since preliminary results from one of four planned acoustical tests of the 400-foot tall turbine showed that the machine was operating within noise limitations.

The discussion will continue during a Board of Health meeting on Sept. 9. However, town officials are wary of the first test’s results.

“My personal take on this was I was disappointed that the forecasted winds weren’t the actual winds, [and] that there was so much insect noise,” said Jennifer Sullivan, Scituate’s director of public health. “There is reason to believe that at some point during the testing the turbine wasn’t making power but using power, which is not exactly what we want to test, and the community people are not happy with the westerly testing direction. They want southwest.”

Because Board Chairman Russell Clark was unable to attend the Monday meeting, the testing protocols haven't been altered.

Yet different criteria may be looked at to specify the turbine’s operation, and alter the method for gathering sound data and the criteria for wind direction, Sullivan said.

“If we can better define the wind direction -- and I know the complaints are continuing because I keep getting them -- we’ll do it that way and see what the results are,” Sullivan said, noting that minor changes in the testing protocol wouldn't need approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Though turbine owners say residents have been a part of the testing criteria from the get-go, and sampling is taking place at the properties of those affected, neighbors have scoffed at the idea they've been involved.

Tom Thompson, executive director for a group of neighbors who say they have suffered from the Scituate turbine, point out that that Scituate Wind, the turbine owner, created much, if not all, of the criteria for the testing.

Thompson said the community group would be satisfied by a complete redo of the testing protocol, one that includes a wider sphere of testing methods. It's not clear what would be an acceptable compromise.

“We’re relying on the advice of our acoustical consultant to advise us if there is an effective middle ground,” Thompson said.

Turbine owner Gordon Deane said he’s on board with a change.

“We have a protocol in place and will follow that unless we’re told differently,” Deane said. “We’ve offered to do different sampling in the protocol - we’ll do that. But if they don’t correct us, when conditions look right to be sampling in accordance with the protocol, we expect we will be out there.”

Plans currently call for testing to occur when the wind is from the west and from the east at both high and low tide.

Though optimal testing would be in colder months without noise from leaves or insects, the only other qualification for testing is wind speed.

Sampling occurs from six sites total, selected based off resident complaints.

During the night of testing on Aug. 14, wind speed was approximately 8.5 to 12.9 miles per hour at the hub heading west, without much of any wind at the base of the turbine. Winds were expected to be higher for the test.

Five sites to the west of the turbine were sampled by Tech Environmental, an acoustical engineer hired by Scituate Wind.

According to an anecdotal report written by Deane, testing was done at clear sight lines to the turbine at properties where it was applicable, but noise from the roadway and from insects made it hard to hear the turbine.

“It was [a] good night for testing since sound was carrying well, but it was the sound from traffic on Route 3A, which is farther away and lower down than the turbine,” Deane said in a write-up. “Unlike the direct line of sight that [Tech Environmental] tried to establish with the turbine, we could not see cars on Route 3A or the Driftway (except at the McKeevers). Yet they were clearly audible and the loudest sounds of the evening, aside from nearby insects.”

With surrounding sounds, the turbine was operating well within the recommended Department of Environmental Protection noise levels.

A chart compiled by Scituate Wind showed the noise coming from the turbine when it was turned on was only 1.1 to 3.9 decibels louder than the ambient level with the turbine turned off. The Department of Environmental Protection suggests that a turbine operating within 10 decibels of ambient noise is okay.

Community members said their acoustical engineer would review the data collected, but weren’t surprised by an overview of the results.

“Not all the story was brought forth, including the power production [of the turbine] or lack thereof. It was only once we pressed [the engineer] on that point,” Thompson said. “[Board of Health member Michael] Vazza said perhaps when we have a chance to take a look at this further, they may have to reconsider that test because of the influences and what the other elements were.”

Turbine owners weren’t surprised by the feedback, saying they anticipated residents to find fault with any testing results.

“When Tech Environmental announced the wind conditions were going to be strong enough for sampling, Tom Thompson wrote them a critical letter that the wind was going to be too strong,” Deane wrote in an email. “By the time the test was to commence that evening, the ground level winds had calmed down to basically 0 mph, which [neighbor David] Dardi described as perfect for testing. Before testing was over, Mr. Dardi was complaining that the winds were not strong enough.”

Dardi has disputed the description of his statements, and said he knew testing would not be optimal the night of the test from the get-go.

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