The boards of health in Scituate and Kingston are grappling this month with studies of noise pollution from large-scale wind turbines in their communities, with Kingston officials dealing with reports of sound exceeding state standards and Scituate officials being told there was no problem.
Both studies resulted from neighbors’ complaints that noise from nearby electricity-generating turbines was keeping them awake at night and making them sick.
In Scituate, a privately owned, 400-foot-tall turbine, located off the Driftway on leased public land behind the waste-water treatment plant, began operating in spring 2012 under a 15-year contract that provides the town electricity at a discounted rate.
The popular “green” project quickly became an object of concern for people living nearby. About 30 residents asked the town’s Board of Health to shut down the turbine, saying it was causing sleep deprivation, headaches, dizziness, and nausea.
In response, the health board ordered Scituate Wind in 2013 to conduct a study to ensure that the project was in compliance with state noise standards. After negotiations over how and when the testing should be done, preliminary results were presented this week and indicated no issues. The tests were done by Tech Environmental of Waltham.
“We are required to comply with Massachusetts regulations, and we are well within the limits for the specific conditions that the residents were concerned about,” said Gordon Deane, president of Scituate Wind. “The test results to date show there are no exceedences.”
Despite the results, the board this week asked Scituate Wind to do one more test, this one with the wind moderate and from the southwest, Deane said.
The noise results in Kingston, where the local Board of Health also had ordered turbine noise to be checked after neighbors’ complaints, were different.
The state Department of Environmental Protection notified Kingston officials in June that on two instances in March the noise from the Kingston Wind Independence turbine at the town’s waste-water treatment facility exceeded state standards.
State environmental staff and representatives of the private engineering firm that conducted the study explained the findings to the Board of Health at a public session in July.
“Our standard is 10 decibels above background” noise is acceptable, DEP Assistant Commissioner Douglas Fine said in an interview before the meeting. “On March 2, it was 15 decibels above background, and on March 15 it was 13.7 above background.”
After verifying the results, the agency contacted Kingston, and “now it is up to the town to take further action,” Fine said.
The Board of Health has scheduled a public hearing for Aug. 11 at 6 p.m. to discuss what should be done to reduce the turbine noise, according to the town’s health agent, Henny Walters.
“If they are out of compliance, they have to comply,” said town planner Thomas Bott. He said other communities have ordered operators of noisy turbines to shut them off or ratchet them down in certain conditions or times.
Bott said the turbine provides all the electricity for all of Kingston’s municipal buildings, with the exception of the town’s sewer operations.
Three other commercial wind turbines in Kingston — the No Fossil Fuel turbines owned by developer Mary O’Donnell — also have been the focus of neighbors’ complaints. Bott said post-construction noise studies of those facilities — which, like Kingston Wind Independence, started operating in 2012 — have not yet been done.
Kingston’s spring 2014 Town Meeting approved a two-year moratorium on new wind turbine proposals.
The Scituate turbine provides about 50 percent of the town’s municipal electrical needs and has saved the town about $200,000 a year, according to Al Bangert, Scituate’s director of special projects. Town Meeting rejected a nonbinding resolution to shut down the turbine in 2013.
Some neighbors of the Scituate turbine said they were not satisfied with the positive findings of the recent noise tests.
“We don’t think the tests have been done in a valid manner,” said David Dardi, who lives on Gilson Road. “We don’t think they were taken at times [when] we are experiencing difficulties.
“It hasn’t been an issue for the past few weeks because the turbine has been broken,” he added. “But when the turbine is up and when wind is from a certain direction, I’m still woken in the middle of the night, with ringing in my ears.”
He added that neighbors still want a comprehensive health study of the residents near the turbines and a study of the “flicker” the turbine blades produce.
Ellen Kasper, who lives about half a mile from the turbine, also questioned the study results and said “it has been a sad, frustrating experience to watch the Board of Health and the town as they pretend to care about our concerns and do nothing to protect us.”
Bangert said he could not respond directly to the comments, but said: “The Board of Health and Scituate Wind are working diligently to address what were residents’ concerns around the noise from the turbine. I think the study concludes it is operated within the permitted level of noise.”
Kasper said she has offered to call officials “any time we are kept awake” by turbine noise “and have them come by, and have offered to let them stay in our homes to experience how disturbing the turbine is. No one has accepted the invitation.”
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.