Debating the "real world" impacts of wind turbines
Wind turbine study assailed
Foes insist facts ‘cherry-picked’
By Kyle Cheney
February 15, 2012
Massachusetts residents insistent that the drone, flicker, and vibration of land-based wind turbines can shatter the health of nearby communities yesterday denounced a recent report that dismissed those claims.
An independent report commissioned by the Patrick administration concluded last month that wind turbines present little more than an annoyance to residents and that limited evidence exists to support claims of devastating health impacts.
But Falmouth and Western Massachusetts residents argued the report was biased, crafted in secret, and based on “cherry-picked’’ information that ignored turbines’ real-world impact.
“By ignoring those of us in Falmouth and excluding most of our supporting literature and testimonials, this so-called health study has done a great injustice to the citizens of this Commonwealth,’’ said Neil Andersen, a Cape resident, at a State House hearing held by the departments of Public Health and Environmental Protection.
Eleanor Tillinghast, a longtime critic of the administration’s efforts to proliferate land-based wind turbines, said the report brought to mind public health officials’ slow realization about the scale of the AIDS epidemic.
“When I read the report, I saw many of the same patterns that we saw early on with those issues where the information is cherry-picked, despite tremendous amounts of information,’’ she said.
Turbine critics at the hearing, however, had to compete with proponents of renewable energy, one of whom compared the low drone of a wind turbine to an ocean’s lapping waves.
Advocates for expanding wind energy in Massachusetts contended that the most ardent critics of turbines are stalling progress at the expense of residents in communities like Somerset, where coal-fired power plants cause air pollution and have harmed residents’ health.
“While we are sensitive to the concerns of those who are adversely impacted,’’ wind projects in Massachusetts “represent the exception and not the rule,’’ said Stephan Wollenburg, marketing and program manager at the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance. “The projects we have worked with have proven to be good neighbors. This report has confirmed what common sense already tells us: Turbines create sound. If it is too loud, it can annoy people . . . still, the vast majority of turbines don’t have these impacts.’’
The testimony underscored a challenge for state officials as they consider whether to embrace the panel report and ways to achieve Governor Deval Patrick’s goal of generating 500 megawatts of wind energy per year by 2020.
The wind turbine impact study was compiled by a panel that included Jeffrey Ellenbogen, Massachusetts General Hospital’s sleep medicine division chief; Sheryl Grace, a Boston University mechanical engineering professor; Wendy Heiger-Bernays and Kimberly Sullivan, BU professors of environmental health; James Manwell, a University of Massachusetts Amherst wind energy specialist; Dora Anne Mills, a public health specialist with the University of New England; and Marc Weisskopf, a neuroscientist and epidemiology expert from Harvard University.
Environmental protection and public health officials emphasized the administration had no role in contributing to the report and said panelists were reviewed to ensure they had no bias for or against wind energy.
Backers of renewable energy have argued that Massachusetts has vast wind resources that could diminish the state’s reliance on imported oil and dirtier forms of energy production. Although most of that potential is concentrated offshore, Patrick administration officials have long sought policies to ease the construction of land-based wind turbines, in part by streamlining the permitting process.
A plan to do so nearly landed on Patrick’s desk in 2010 but failed as the clock expired on legislative business. Since then, Senate President Therese Murray has indicated she has soured on the comprehensive wind energy siting proposal, and Patrick’s top energy adviser, Richard Sullivan, has suggested the administration will scale back its efforts this year, seeking only to establish siting standards for land-based turbines.