Making the case against the turbine

I am writing in response to a commentary published in the Dec. 16 edition by Robert Broker, who endorsed the proposed wind turbine proposal by The Trustees of Reservations. Mr. Broker (15 Barnes Road) is the Treasurer of the Responsible Energy Alternatives Coalition of Hingham (“REACH”), a non-profit organization that has studied the potential for one or more renewable energy projects in Hingham since at least 2006. Mr. Broker and REACH appear to have accepted, without question or analysis, every argument made by the Trustees concerning an industrial wind turbine project on land that has been in conservation for nearly 80 years.

My wife and I live at 40 Turkey Hill Lane with our three children, ages 8, 11 and 13. Our house is approximately one half mile from the site where the Trustees propose to build and operate a 410 foot, 1.8 Mega Watt “wind energy conversion facility”. When we relocated from Sherwood Road to Turkey Hill in 2008, we believed (perhaps naively) that The Trustees of Reservations was a non-profit land trust, and that the “reservations” they owned would be protected from development forever. We have been members of the Trustees since we moved to Hingham in 1996, and we have given them money each year so that others could enjoy reservations like the three properties we live next to and use almost every day. Only three weeks ago, Andrew Kendall, the President of the Trustees sent us a fund raising letter in which he reassured us that each one of the properties owned by the Trustees would continue to be protected from development and preserved for public enjoyment. His letter made no mention of any for-profit wind energy projects on Trustee owned land. Rather, he said the following:

“Today our mission is more urgent than ever before – our work can’t wait for better times ahead. Across the Commonwealth, we continue to lose thousands of acres to development every year. When we lose these special places, the loss is very personal and, all too often, irreversible.

“It’s sometimes hard to put into words, but it can be something as simple as the feel of a place that stirs our love for the land and inspires our pride in our home. It’s the same feeling I have knowing that special places like…World’s End and Weir River Farm are protected for everyone to enjoy, forever. I can’t help but contrast that with the gnawing worry that so many other special places – places that are essential to the health and vitality of our communities – await a most uncertain future.”

Despite its singular mission to protect and conserve land, and despite its consistent fund raising message, the Trustees have apparently decided that wind energy development is more important than the land they are entrusted to protect.

Without advanced notice to their neighbors in Hingham, the Trustees have filed an application with the Cohasset Planning Board seeking a special permit to build an industrial wind turbine on 314 acres of the Whitney Thayer Woods, 12 acres of which is owned by the Town of Hingham. Because the land on which the turbine will be built is located in Cohasset, the Town of Hingham and its residents have had little or no voice in the permitting process even though 74 percent of the land within a one mile radius of the project is located in Hingham and even though the only access route to the site is up Route 228, Leavitt Street and Turkey Hill Lane. In fact, the Trustees propose to build a 450 foot (paved) extension to Turkey Hill Lane, so that the 142 tons of metal and countless tons of concrete required to build the turbine can be transported to the site.

The Trustees’ Application is riddled with half-truths and misinformation. Unfortunately, REACH and the Cohasset Planning Board seem more than willing to overlook each and every bit of misinformation to obtain that trophy wind turbine they have coveted for so long. The Cohasset Planning Board is now deliberating the merits of the Application, having chosen to close all public debate on the matter only 48 days after the Application was filed.

With respect to the proposed location of the turbine, the Trustees’ Special Permit Application incorrectly says that the turbine will be built on Turkey Hill and that an industrial wind turbine is consistent with the past industrial use of the property (i.e. Turkey Hill is a former NIKE silo site and it currently houses two cell towers that are not owned by the Trustees). A closer reading of the Application, however, reveals that the 314 wooded acres upon which the Trustees propose to build this goliath are not located on Turkey Hill. Rather, the Trustees will build their wind turbine on pristine land known as the Whitney Thayer Woods which, at one time, was used for farming but has since become a forest and home to the American Holly Grove — hardly an industrial site. The Trustees also claim, and REACH adopts without hesitation, that the turbine will be built in a “remote” location, as if to suggest that no people are nearby. The reality is quite different. The Feasibility Study conducted by the Trustees admits that (i) the 200+ residents at the Cohasset Golden Living Facility live only 984 feet from the site, (ii) the on-site caretaker of the property lives only 1,082 feet away in a house rented to the Trustees by the Town of Hingham, and (iii) “developed residential areas” including my home are located less than 2,000 feet away. Indeed, the Trustees elsewhere concede that a one-mile radius of the site embraces several Hingham neighborhoods and the East Street elementary school (approximately 300 homes in total).

The Special Permit Application goes on to say that after careful study, the Trustees have concluded that the proposed wind turbine will have an acceptable visual impact (on the Town of Cohasset), and only minimal affect on plants, wildlife and people. The facts prove otherwise:

· Visual Impact – What constitutes an eyesore is purely subjective. Each person has his or her own standard. Perhaps the best rendering of the Trustees’ wind turbine project was contained in their visual simulation and can be found on The Friends of Turkey Hill web site (www.friendsofturkeyhill.org). In this case, a picture is truly worth 1,000 words, and I encourage every reader to see it for themselves. This wind turbine will be the largest on the South Shore. It is much larger than both of the turbines in Hull. It will be constructed on a 118 foot hill, and will rise up 410 feet from the ground. At an elevation of almost 530 feet, this turbine will be higher than the Custom House Tower in Boston and only 220 feet lower than the Prudential Center. Whether you like or dislike the look of a wind turbine, this turbine will undoubtedly change the Hingham landscape, forever.

· Noise – At the center of a wind turbine (approximately 260 feet off the ground), approximately 170 decibels of sound is emitted – the same noise level as one would find on the deck of an aircraft carrier with F-16 fighter jets taking off and landing. Of course, sound decreases rapidly with distance and height, but that is the starting point of the analysis. To satisfy state sound limits, the Trustees conducted a sound study in August, when noise absorbing leaves are on the trees and weather conditions are not favorable for wind turbines (wind turbines do most of their work in the fall and winter months when trees are bare and sound bounces off the cold, hard ground). Predictably, the Trustees sound experts concluded that based on conditions present in the month of August, the proposed wind turbine will not exceed state limits. During Cohasset Planning Board meetings, several Hingham residents (including me) asked for time to conduct our own study, so that we could capture data that would make the sound study results more realistic, and which would undoubtedly show that this turbine will be noisier than state noise laws would allow. Cohasset and The Trustees’ rejected our request for time, a request that was also made by the Town of Hingham. The Trustees and members of the Cohasset Planning Board responded by pointing out that people are generally indoors in the winter, have their windows closed and shouldn’t be bothered by the noise. Of course, the Cohasset zoning by-laws apply equally in all fours seasons of the year.

· Flicker – Until two weeks ago, I thought “flicker” was a famous horse. In this context, flicker is the strobe light effect created when the sun shines through the rotating blades of a wind turbine. As the sun moves across the sky, flicker moves across the landscape each day in a pattern that is frequently referred to as the “butterfly” because of its shape. According to an analysis of flicker conducted by the Town of Cohasset, Hingham residents within this butterfly shaped zone will experience flicker anywhere from a low of 1-10 hours each year up to almost 100 hours depending on weather conditions. The flicker pattern will even reach homes along East Street near the intersection of Route 3A. One can only imagine the impact flicker will have on mental and physical health of the 200+ elderly residents of the Cohasset Golden Living facility who will be impacted by upwards of 100 hours of flicker, primarily during summer afternoons and evenings. Fortunately, my family will only be forced to endure 11-20 hours of flicker. During the two Cohasset Planning Board meetings that I attended, the only first-hand testimonials given with respect to noise and flicker came from two Hingham residents who live near the Hull 2 turbine. Both of them said that no matter what the experts say, flicker and noise are ever present and highly annoying.

· Conservation and Habitat – Those Hingham residents who are members of the Trustees should be disappointed to learn that the Trustees conducted a mere “desk top survey” of the forests that need to be cleared and the birds and wildlife that will be killed or that will lose their nesting area by virtue of this project. A desk top survey is a euphemism for an internet search. Conservationists should take note that The Trustees of Reservations evaluated the impact of this project by surfing the web rather than following the Guidelines recently proposed to the Secretary of the Interior by the Advisory Committee for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

· Health – In light of the fact that the health affects of wind turbines on neighboring residents remains a hotly contested subject, I did not lead with this point, although I consider it most important. In her 2009 book, Wind Turbine Syndrome, Dr. Nina Pierpoint concludes that the “infrasound” or low frequency noise emitted by wind turbines cause people living within 1.25 miles of the turbine to become sick. More specifically, Dr. Pierpoint found that people within 1.25 miles of a wind turbine experience sleep disorders, headaches, tinnitus (inner ear problems), dizziness, anxiety and depression. Dr. Michael Nissenbaum has published his own study of the impact that wind turbines have had on people living within a mile of the Mars Hill wind energy project in Maine. In fairness to the debate, it is important to note that the Canadian Wind Energy and American Wind Energy Associations published a report in 2009 that disputes the findings made by Pierpoint and Nissenbaum. For the sake of my wife and children, my neighbors and their children, I hope that the Wind Energy Association is right. When residents of both Hingham and Cohasset voiced their health concerns to the Cohasset Planning Board about the potential adverse health consequences of the Trustees’ project, Cohasset Planning Board Member Charles Samuelson loudly responded: “I can suggest that if you are concerned about it, there is probably some property for sale in Cohasset, move!”.

· Economics – Like most people, my single largest financial investment is my home. The value of my house may one day pay for the education of my children or the cost of living during retirement. No one can credibly argue that having a 410 foot wind turbine on a 118 foot hill only one half mile from your home will increase its value. There is substantial evidence to the contrary. In fact, it is well documented that housing prices near other land-based wind energy projects have been impacted so severely that wind turbine developers have agreed to purchase neighboring homes or enter into guaranty agreements with home owners. Apparently, Mr. Broker and the members of REACH live a comfortable distance from this wind energy project and are not concerned about the impact it will have on their homes. That is certainly true for members of the Cohasset Planning Board and executives of the Trustees.

Wind energy may be a great way to reduce carbon emissions and to reduce our need to deplete other natural resources, most notably, coal and petroleum. But they simply have no place in residential areas. More importantly, the Trustees need to honestly assess this project, how it perverts their mission to conserve and protect land from development and how it will affect the health and welfare of the people who live nearby. If you can’t trust the Trustees, who can you trust?

Charles Dale lives at 40 Turkey Hill Lane.

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