The Falmouth Experience: Life Under The Blades
March 7, 2011 | 7:29 AM | By Jess Bidgood
Encouraged by the Patrick Administration’s goal to expand wind power, communities across the commonwealth are considering or constructing wind turbines. In the town of Falmouth, some residents say a turbine installed last year has changed their lives — and not for the better. This week, WGBH’s Sean Corcoran takes us to Falmouth to explore all sides of the issue in a special series, The Falmouth Experience: The Trouble with One Town’s Turbine.
In his kitchen table at his Falmouth home, Neil Anderson holds the calendar where he and his wife record their daily reactions to the wind turbine located nearby.
FALMOUTH, Mass. — Standing on his home’s porch, Neil Anderson points through the thicket of trees in his front yard and across Blacksmith Shop Road towards one of his closest neighbors: A wind turbine.
“Right now we are 1,320 feet, which is one-quarter mile south of Wind One, which is Falmouth’s first wind turbine. It’s been online since April. And we’ve been trying to get it stopped since April,” Anderson says.
Wind One, as the turbine is officially called, is owned by the town of Falmouth and is located at the town’s wastewater treatment plant, where it stands 262 feet tall to the turbine’s hub. That’s about 10 feet taller than the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown. The blades extend just shy of 400 feet, which is about half the height of the John Hancock Building in Boston.
Wind 1 stands 262 feet tall in Falmouth. As many as 50 residents of the town have complained of the health effects the turbine’s noise and shadows have had on their lives.
When it was installed last spring, Anderson didn’t think Wind One would cause a problem. For 35 years, he’s owned and operated a passive solar company on Cape Cod.
The energy conservationist in Anderson considered wind power a good principle. He wasn’t alone — before the turbine switched on, Falmouth residents almost universally welcomed Wind One as a symbol of renewable energy and a way to keep taxes down.
“I was proud looking at it from this viewpoint — until it started turning,” Anderson said.
But now, as many as 50 people are complaining about the turbine and the noise it makes at different speeds. A dozen families are retaining a lawyer for that reason.
“It is dangerous. Headaches. Loss of sleep. And the ringing in my ears never goes away. I could look at it all day, and it does not bother me. It’s quite majestic — but it’s way too close,” Anderson said.
Neighbors say this isn’t a debate about a turbine ruining their view, and their goal is not compensation. Some just want it turned off at night.
But Anderson can’t compromise. “This house has been my hobby, my investment, and we love it out here. We will move if we have to. Because we cannot live with (the turbine). No, we cannot,” Anderson said.
Wind One is expected to save the town about $375,000 a year in electricity. Heather Harper, Falmouth’s acting town manager, says Falmouth owes about $5 million on the 1.65-megawatt turbine.
Harper said one of the challenges of running the turbine is that the type of sound some neighbors complain about — that low-level pulse — isn’t regulated by the state. “The times I have been there I do not experience the impact of the effect that the neighbors have expressed that they’ve experienced. But I do believe that they are experiencing something that is very real to them,” Harper said.
Neil Anderson and his wife keep a log of how the turbine affects them. It shows nights of disrupted sleeping, headaches, and even mood-swings.
David McGlinchey is with the non-partisan Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in Plymouth, which provides science-based information to policy makers. McGlinchey says that while Wind One has generated complaints, other turbines of similar size, including a 1.8-megawatt turbine in Hull, have been mostly well-received.
“The existing peer-reviewed studies suggest that there are no health effects associated with the sound and noise from wind turbines,” McGlinchey said. “That being said, people clearly experience symptoms. People have headaches, people have their sleep disturbed, people are not living well next to them in some situations. In some situations they are. So, both sides are right.”
Wind advocates say Falmouth’s experience has made it nearly impossible to get other turbines approved on Cape Cod, and potentially across the state. Last week, Falmouth’s selectmen acknowledged the issue and agreed to turn off the turbine when wind speeds exceed 23 miles per hour.
It’s unclear how much relief this will bring or how long it will last, since selectmen said more permanent mitigation efforts still must be negotiated.
One looming concern of neighbors is a second turbine, one of the same size and make that has gone up not far from the first. Falmouth’s Wind Two is scheduled to be turned on sometime this spring.
More from this series: