Is going rural the key to opposition-free wind development?

Putting wind turbines in places where most people won’t come across them might be the key to easier wind development in Massachusetts. Monday’s Boston Globe featured a piece by Erin Ailworth highlighting the success some wind companies have had in Massachusetts getting wind power up and running – on land. As Cape Wind’s ongoing saga to build turbines in Nantucket sound progresses, these less publicized but smoother experiences indicate that simply putting turbines on land could thaw the frozen stance of local opposition.

There’s no doubt that it’s getting easier to harness wind power. Ailworth finds a 30 percent reduction in the price of turbines in the past few years, and lower wind speeds can be used to generate electricity. But fierce local opposition to land-based wind projects is frequent, particularly among abutters of wind farms.

Falmouth was forced to scale back operating hours for two of its wind turbines following complaints from abutters. In Kingston, a group called Kingston Wind Aware is trying to get the town to shorten hours of three turbines. In Fairhaven, the state has agreed to conduct a sound study of two turbines in that town to determine whether they are in violation of Massachusetts noise regulations. Late last year, a bill that would have streamlined permitting for wind projects died in part due to opposition from those looking to prevent turbines from being built near residential areas.

The state has also weighed in on claims of “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” a condition said to be caused by living near wind projects with symptoms ranging from sleep disruption to vertigo. A Department of Environmental Protection/Department of Public Health joint study debunked Wind Turbine Syndrome this past January.

Ailworth found that one of the ways to avoid opposition was planning wind development in rural areas. But even in sparsely populated places like the Berkshires, there is debate over whether land conservation efforts are more vital to the environment than renewable energy development.

Responding to complaints from Kingston residents, turbine owner Mary O’Donnell told the Globe in June, “Anything new that happens frightens people,” and likened fear of turbines to fear of the telephone 100 years ago. So perhaps it will only be time and not location that will ultimately save wind development in the Bay State.

                                                                                                                –CHRISTINA PRIGNANO


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