State will consider turbine health concerns

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Wednesday February 29, 2012

LEE -- Facing a barrage of criticism from wind-turbine opponents, state officials promised to take into account citizens' concerns as they form plans for the future of the contentious alternative energy source in Massachusetts.

Anxieties about how sounds produced by wind turbines affect the health of those who live nearby dominated the last of three public forums the state held Tuesday night at Lee Middle and High School.

Representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Public Health (DPH) were seeking the public's responses to a recent report they commissioned from an independent panel of scientists that dispelled the notion that turbines pose significant health risks. Officials said that those reactions, as well as personal anecdotes from those who live near turbines, were an important part of deciding how to proceed with wind energy.

"Right now our minds are open," said DEP Commissioner Ken Kimmell.

In zealous and sometimes vitriolic testimonies, several dozen residents of Western Massachusetts and beyond expressed deep dissatisfaction with the report, which was a literature review of current research. Several people called for the DEP to initiate an independent study of the effects of wind turbines in Massachusetts, rather than relying on a compilation of previous studies. Many also felt that the report's suggestion for the maximum sound level that turbines should produce was too high.

Several residents of Falmouth who'd made the drive from Cape Cod for the meeting enumerated the headaches, vertigo and loss of sleep that wind turbines have caused in their neighborhood, stirring the concern of others in the audience.

"I think it's time we stopped putting human beings at risk for technology," said Lee resident Deidre Consolati.

Calling the problem "a modern Holocaust" and a "man-made plague," Savoy resident Marshall Rosenthal demanded that all turbines in the state be shut down immediately.

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Others asked for more stringent siting regulations to diminish the whooshing and thumping they say contributes to "Wind Turbine Syndrome," the existence of which the scientific report denies.

Michael Fairneny of Florida, who lives nearby where the 19 Hoosac Wind Project turbines are slated for construction, said he was worried about turbines cropping up without the public's consent.

"I'm trying to stress the importance of local municipalities playing a part in this process," Fairneny said. "I'm very concerned for our Berkshires. [I hope] you site these things as far away from residential areas as possible."

A handful of representatives from wind companies, nonprofits and towns expressed the desire to find a way to push forward with turbines.

Peter Rothstein, a West Stockbridge resident and president of the New England Clean Energy Council, pointed out that wind energy can help to curb the health problems that are a result of the burning of fossil fuels.

"We need wind, and we need wind to be developed in a highly responsible way," he said.

Touching on ideas broached throughout the evening, Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, suggested that new research could begin to answer questions that linger.

"There really is very little information on health impacts, and I'm very concerned that once things are built they're pretty hard to remove," Karns said. "We need to be extremely careful. Some real studies with our topographies need to be done."

To reach Amanda Korman:
akorman@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6243


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