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Our work on wind

Recorder editorial ignores data, logic

The committee in Heath charged with researching industrial scale wind, was profoundly disappointed with the editorial of The Recorder (Feb. 7) regarding the committee’s report. Our concern is not so much with its rejection of the report’s conclusion, to wit that industrial wind should not be allowed in the Town of Heath, but rather we were dismayed at the editorial’s lack of response to the data and the logic of the argument behind the conclusions reached. Indeed, we have to wonder whether the editorial writer even bothered to read the report.

And so, for the benefit of the readers of The Recorder who may want to go beyond the derogatory acronyms and the cliched refrain of the editorial, the committee would like to summarize the main points of its report.

Analysis of Department of Energy maps and graphs for Massachusetts and Heath, in particular, show poor to marginal wind resources available to power industrial wind turbines. At best, land-based wind turbines in the state would be able to displace fossil fuel generated electricity by 5 percent and reduce CO2 emissions by 1.5 percent, a minimal contribution to the reduction of global warming.

The documented evidence from cities and town across the state shows adverse health effects related to the high amplitudes and very low frequencies of the sound waves characteristically emitted by industrial turbines. The former are associated with chronic sleep deprivation, stress and anxiety as evidenced by elevated cortisol output. The latter are associated with peripheral nervous dysfunction, including ringing of the ears, rapid heart rate, vertigo, and motion sickness. The committee studied the reports from Falmouth, Fairhaven, Scituate, Kingston, Newburyport, Hyannis, Nantucket, Hancock, Florida, Mass., and Lowell, Vt. Some of us met with the aggrieved neighbors of these industrial machines and bore witness to stories of broken and shattered lives.

Because wind turbines can not be encased in sound dampening structures, the only way to mitigate these health impacts is to interpolate distance between the turbine and the nearest non-participating property line. The committee examined studies and graphs of noise attenuation as a function of distance, and determined that 1½ to 2 miles would be required before noise levels were to drop off to 5 decibels above the ambient noise level of the town. The 5 decibels above ambient is the criterion recommended by the ISO (International Standards Organization) for avoiding widespread community complaint to noise. It is equivalent to the doubling of loudness perceived by the human ear.

The committee’s analysis of the geographic distribution of our population and land parcels showed that setbacks of this size could not be achieved in the town.

The committee reviewed 20 studies of industrial wind turbine impacts on property values. Except for two which were funded by the wind lobby and a state government with a wind agenda, all indicated a devaluation of real property within a two-mile radius of any turbine site of about 25 percent. Given that the area generated by such a radius is 12.6 square miles and that the total area of the town is only 24.9 square miles, the properties in over half the area of Heath would be subject to a potential 25 percent reduction in value. The de facto effect on tax assessments is explained more fully in the report, but in general, the tax assessments of that half of the town sufficiently distant from the site of a wind turbine would be increased to subsidize the lower tax assessments of the other half close to the turbine, in order to meet the fixed revenue needs of the community.

In sum, the committee determined that the cost of industrial wind turbines in terms of the depreciation in the value of our citizen’s homes and the adverse effects on human health, could not be mitigated by achievable safe setbacks, nor offset by any benefits to the urgent cause of reducing CO2 emissions. The cost-benefit ledger was determined to be negative. On that basis, the committee recommended excluding industrial wind from our town.

The opening sentence of our Committee report stressed the “necessity of “transition(ing) to non-fossil energy sources,” but also cautioned “that not every … source … (is) equally available in all locations or equally benign in its impact.” That the committee found industrial wind too ineffective and too costly for Heath to permit, in no way preludes our commitment to other energy alternatives. Only five months ago, the town passed an industrial solar bylaw to foster solar installations, complementing our long tradition of encouraging distributed solar. A pluralistic approach in which an energy technology is adopted based on its efficacy in a particular environment and minimum adversity to a community is far more rational and humane than the one-size-fits-all approach of The Recorder editorial.

The committee regrets that The Recorder chose to ignore these and other details of our report. Instead, it repeated the tired charge of NIMBYism and infantile anti-corporatism. There is no substitute for reasoned and enlightened discussion of the issue. Unperturbed by the attempt to stifle dissent from political correctness, we stand by our study and invite others of good will to due diligence before making a decision of such import.

Steve Ryak and Bill Latrell, wrote this on behalf of the Heath Renewable Energy Committee. The other members are Jan Carr, Andy Draxler, Bill Gran, Rol Hesselbart, Heather Row, Peter Row, Rebecca Sampson and Bob Schultz.

A terrific letter and a remarkably well researched and written report.

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