Massachusetts’ Governor Deval Patrick has a plan to erect enough wind turbines in the state to power 800,000 home by the end of the decade, with 25% of that electricity coming from land-based turbines. But in the final installment of our series The Falmouth Experience, Sean Corcoran reports that complaints about a turbine in Falmouth are raising the possibility that one bad experience could jeopardize Patrick’s state-wide push for wind energy.
FALMOUTH, Mass. — Since the turbine began spinning last April, Mark Cool can’t spend much time in his West Falmouth yard without getting headaches and feeling changes in pressure.
“Everybody’s flown,” he explained. “The sensation that best describes it is when you are about to reach pressure altitude on the climb out or descending, and your ears pop for relief. I’m walking around the yard with that sensation right before the pop.”
Cool says chewing gum helps with the pressure changes. The more immediate problem is that since the town installed the 400-foot turbine at the wastewater treatment plant last spring, Cool and his wife Annie have had trouble sleeping. So when the winds get gusty, Annie goes to the back bedroom where she has a noise machine, and Mark, an air traffic controller, heads to the basement couch.
“That’s how we live around here,” he said. “We plan everything around, okay, do I want to sleep tonight, or should I risk possibly being awoken by the wind turbine?”
More than a dozen households near Falmouth’s Wind One turbine have similar problems, and it’s prompting neighbors to speak out.
Steven Clarke is the Patrick Administration’s top wind official. He says there are no clear answers as to why Falmouth’s turbine is generating so many complaints, and that neighbors, the town and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection are still trying to sort it out.
“There have been assumptions made that it’s either siting or mechanical issues or other issues that are behind the concerns, but I think it is too early to say,” he said.
Clarke says the Cape is a critical part of the state’s wind program. But all the discussion about Falmouth is hurting the effort.
“I think what’s happened is there has been a localized issue in Falmouth,” asserts Clarke, “and then that certain folks have made generalizations based on that, which I think are inaccurate. And that’s made it more difficult to get other projects built on the Cape.”
Wind industry folks say it’s too early to gauge whether Patrick will reach his goal of generating 2,000 megawatts of electricity from wind by the end of the decade because dozens of turbine proposals are still working their way through local boards. Still, 23 turbines have been installed in the state since Patrick took office in 2007, and to help the process along, the Administration is looking to create a state board to oversee the siting of turbines.
Liz Argo, a prominent wind consultant on Cape Cod, welcomes a state siting board for turbines, but says wind opponents are using the stories coming out of Falmouth to discourage wind projects, and those stories will likely spread off-Cape as well.
“So like any good campaign manager, they’re going to throw up the poster child. And the poster child is Falmouth,” Argo said. “So I would imagine that off-Cape the horror stories coming from Falmouth are going to be used to scare the population the same way they are being used down here.”
In Mark Cool’s view, he’s not telling horror stories; he’s just talking about his experience. Cool says he likes the idea of a turbine saving taxpayers money. And Gov. Patrick is right to promote wind, he says. The problem is, something’s gone wrong in Falmouth.
“Conceptually it’s a good product,” Cool said. “The Falmouth experience should represent to Deval Patrick, to the state, what didn’t work. So the investigation should be why didn’t it work. So whatever is taken from that analysis, apply it so it won’t happen again. You won’t have a Brewster experience or a Bourne experience.”
Complaints about large turbines near residents are not limited to Falmouth. Places such as New Zealand and Europe had a head start on their installation, and there are ongoing discussions there about health effects and the need for more regulation. Such claims are controversial. But what’s known for sure is that the Falmouth Experience has hurt the land-based turbine effort on the Cape. What’s yet to be seen is whether it will have the same affect state-wide.
More from this series:
- Wind Energy: The onshore-offshore connection
- Part 1: Life under the blades
- Extended interview: ‘You can’t force these on people’
- Part 2: Sick from the noise
- Extended interview: ‘It put me into depression’
- Is annoyance a health impact?
- Part 3: Flickering light
- Debating the future of renewable energy
- Part 4: The Green Debate
- Extended Interview with Liz Argo: ‘What can we learn from Falmouth?’
- Extended Interview with Eric Bibler: ‘The towns are conflicted’