LENOX -- The study group on wind turbines is nearing a likely split decision on whether to recommend that the town proceed with a municipal turbine installation atop Lenox Mountain.
Deep divisions have re-emerged following this week's release of a state-commissioned scientific study minimizing the health risks of such projects.
At Thursday night's Town Hall meeting, turbine supporter Dr. Michael Kaplan praised the study, while project opponents were highly skeptical.
The panel now has a Feb. 15 target date to deliver its conclusions to the Select Board. Three sub-groups have been examining the health, environmental and financial impact of the proposal to build one or two municipal turbines atop the ridge line overlooking Lenox and Richmond.
"The science does not tell us we shouldn't be doing it," Kaplan asserted.
Project opponent Christopher Magee has prepared an alternate summary on health impacts.
"We'll come up with a single report with two different conclusions," Kaplan predicted.
He called the state report by a panel of experts "a higher level of information than we had before, more useful than everything else I've seen so far. It does change some things about this committee's work."
"I wouldn't agree with that, by the way," panelist Channing Gibson objected.
"Of course," Kaplan countered. "We're not all going to agree that it's the best we could have gotten. It was much more than I expected and to have what appears to be an independent scientific study of a problem by our own state, trying to help the state develop guidelines, I thought was extremely useful whatever the conclusion is."
Panel member Joanne Magee, a project opponent, criticized the study, commissioned by the Department of Environmental Protection, because "it was chartered to address noise and sound concerns in an effort to advance the wind-energy agenda in the state, so it had a particular context that was going to shape the findings and the evidence that was presented."
She said most of the research cited in the state report was performed before 2009, and pointed out recent individual studies highlighting negative effects of noise and vibration.
"Individual studies are subject to significant bias," Kaplan repiied, emphasizing that expert studies should be given high credibility.
"What's important about building wind turbines is protecting the globe and the environment if we can help to do that, even if it costs us a little bit, I for one would vote for it," Kaplan added, despite Magee's contention that if homeowners who live near the turbine site are compensated for loss of property value, the "already bad [financial] numbers would be trashed."
Magee also mentioned "emerging science that suggests that wind turbines contribute to carbon-dioxide emissions."
"There is not emerging science that suggests that," Kaplan shot back. "There are people who suggest that and a lot of other people and scientists say that's not the case, so there's no consensus."
"If we take down carbon-dioxide producing plants and put up wind turbines," he added, "we'll be better for it ... they pollute the atmosphere less, contribute less to global warming. I don't think anyone could question that."
"It's being questioned all over the place," Gibson responded.
According to the 164-page state report by the independent group of scientists and doctors, there is minimal evidence that wind turbines are a heath threat to residents living near them. But the study did acknowledge limited evidence that turbine noise can disrupt nearby residents' sleep.
The state panel's findings were based on a review of existing studies. It did not do original research, nor did it investigate reports of health problems among residents living near any particular turbine installation.
"That's usually how expert panels come up with guidelines," said Kaplan.
"But for me, that obviates it as a useful study," Gibson asserted. "I can't imagine ... given the potential for pre-existing bias, why there wasn't more independent research done. I just don't think it's a helpful document."
To reach Clarence Fanto:
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