Wind power has been the most significant new contributor to clean energy production around the world in the past decade, but you’ve got to wonder if the big turbines, the ones that are most efficient at cranking out the power, are really appropriate for near-residential deployment.
Go to the Fairhaven, Mass., website and right there on the front page in the navigational links – with items like About Fairhaven, Police Department and Minutes & Agenda – you’ll find Wind Turbine Complaint Form. That’s how big an issue the pair of 1.5-megawatt wind turbines installed behind a wastewater treatment plant in town have become.
The issue came to a head on Monday; the town’s Board of Health voted unanimously to shut down the turbines between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to the local South Coast Today newspaper.
Was this a case of a town reacting to unverified health claims, the likes of which have not been backed up by scientific study and which some research suggests could be the result of fears whipped up by wind opponents? That doesn’t appear to be the case. Here, the crowd clamoring to shut down the turbines had some powerful evidence on their side: Noise from the turbines has at times violated Massachusetts law.
Preliminary results of a study undertaken by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, released last month, showed that in five of 24 samples taken – representing different locations and different wind conditions – sound exceeded 10 decibels above the ambient level. That’s the cutoff under the agency’s regulations.
The report [PDF] said the excessive noise – ranging from 10.7 to 12.9 decibels over ambient – came in “strong northwesterly and/or easterly wind conditions.” The sites where this occurred were “the closest residential properties to the wind turbines (within 1,400 feet).” Under those same conditions, samples at locations farther away came in under the plus-10-decibel limit.
Unlike another local Massachusetts wind turbine controversy, the Falmouth fight, in this case the turbines aren’t owned by the town. A developer called Fairhaven Wind owns the two turbines, which have been operating for just over a year. The company leases property from the town for the turbines and sells all of the energy produced under a 20-year agreement.
And the turbines are producing a goodly amount of power, a combined 6.2 gigawatt-hours in their first 12 months of operation, according to data on the Fairhaven Wind site. But that figure will surely drop with the nighttime curtailment, raising the possibility that this matter could turn into a long legal fight.