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Wind advocates say critics’ assertions are exaggerated

One of the owners of the Kingston turbines said wild claims of the effects of flicker are an example of the “climate of fear” created by political opponents of wind power.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

One of the owners of the Kingston turbines said wild claims of the effects of flicker are an example of the “climate of fear” created by political opponents of wind power.

As a state noise study of the 2-megawatt wind turbine on town land approaches, Kingston’s green energy advocates say media focus on the critics of the turbines is obscuring the good done by the region’s renewable-energy projects.

“Deval Patrick’s green renewable energy program is being sidetracked,” said Mark Beaton, head of Kingston’s Green Energy Committee and a former selectman. “I want to have the other side of the conversation put forth.”

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Wind power advocates say some residents’ accounts of the noise and “shadow flicker” produced by the Kingston Wind Independence turbine — such as the characterization of turbine sound as “torture” by a neighbor who lives 1,000 feet away — are wildly exaggerated and scientifically impossible. They say reports of health problems such as headaches and sleeplessness probably have other causes — such as a negative obsession with the presence of the turbine.

Kingston officials, however, continue to take the assertions seriously and have pressed the state to perform the noise study. Beaton said the assertions reached an absurd height when a Kingston police officer was dispatched to a Leland Road home for a noise complaint during winter storm Nemo last February. The officer reported he could not hear the turbine in the resident’s home during the blizzard.

Kially Ruiz, one of three partners who own and operate the Kingston Wind Independence turbine under a 20-year contract, said wild claims of the effects of flicker are an example of the “climate of fear” created by political opponents of wind power. He pointed to an assertion that “the flicker takes over your home” reported on a TV news show.

He said the scientific fact is that flicker — caused by the blades interrupting the sun’s reflection off the turbine — occurs only during brief periods when the sun is at the right angle and weather conditions are clear, and it occurs only during a few months a year for about 15 minutes a day.

Further, Ruiz said, “it can be controlled by pulling down a window shade.” Flicker is “an annoyance,” he said, but hardly a reason to shut down the turbine.

“Last year $175,000 went back into the community of Kingston,” Ruiz said, from his company’s contract with the town. “It’s about doing something for the community at large. . . . You only have to sacrifice a little.”

But in Kingston’s Town Hall, residents’ complaints of serious and lasting health problems have received a sympathetic hearing, and two neighborhood “clusters” of residents have regularly attended town board meetings, said Selectman Dennis Randall. He said he believes there’s a legitimate public concern when people experience continual sleep problems.

“I’m going to make the assumption that a group of families that have been attending meetings for the past year aren’t doing it because there’s nothing on TV to watch,” Randall said last Monday.

Randall agreed that some complainants have tended to resort to “hyperbole,” but he disagreed with Ruiz’s dismissal of them.

“I tend to be skeptical of people with a horse in the race questioning whether people have something worth complaining about,” he said.

However, Randall agreed that a “subjective element” probably plays a role in the health symptoms reported by residents. When it comes to noise, he said, you can have two households hearing the same noise. While one household “tunes it out,” he said, “in the other household it is disruptive.”

Some neighbors have pressed to have the turbine turned off at night or shut down altogether. Concerned, town officials asked the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct the noise study.

Last year a study by the agency concluded that a turbine in Falmouth was in violation of the state’s noise standard of no more than 10 decibels over base-line readings, and the widely publicized test result provided ammunition for turbine critics throughout the state.

Nevertheless, Beaton said, Falmouth voters soundly defeated a proposal to take down the wind turbine. Similarly, a Town Meeting vote in Scituate turned back a proposal to shut down a year-old turbine.

Wind power advocates also contend that the test that found the Falmouth turbine violated noise standards relied too much on human factors.

But DEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell last week defended his department’s methods.

“It’s consistent with the methods used to deal with a variety of projects, such as sand and gravel and asphalt batching plants, for years,” Kimmell said. “We have people on the staff trained to recognize wind gusts and discount them.”

DEP spokesman Ed Coletta said Kingston’s Board of Health has also asked for noise studies of three other turbines on private land, but given “staffing limitations” the department has not yet responded.

Both town and state officials agree that, regardless of whether health complaints blamed on Kingston’s turbine are justified, it must meet the state’s noise standard. Most turbines do, Kimmell said.

“The vast majority of these occasions shows that these turbines are operating in compliance,” he said. “Sometimes that gets overlooked.”

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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