Deficiencies have been found in a study done of the four wind turbines sited just over the town line in Plymouth—a study that was meant to determine if noise from the massive turbines is below state-established thresholds and meets Plymouth’s permitting requirements.
In reviewing the study, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection found that noise samples were collected at the wrong time of day and that not all the turbines were spinning when the sampling was done. The state also pointed out that some necessary information was missing from the analysis and that the report provided conflicting information relative to the turbines’ exact locations on the site.
The Town of Plymouth’s inspectional services director, Paul McAuliffe, had asked MassDEP to give the study a close look.
After receiving the state’s report, he wrote to Con Edison senior asset manager Joseph Sullivan. The turbines were built by Future Generation Wind—which is owned by Con Edison Solutions out of Valhalla, New York—on land belonging to local cranberry farmer Keith A. Mann, who leases the property to Con Edison.
In his letter, Mr. McAuliffe noted that MassDEP’s review raises questions and required additional information “to determine that the turbines are operating in compliance with MassDEP noise policy and the Plymouth Zoning Bylaws.”
Mr. McAuliffe asked that Con Edison respond to the concerns raised in MassDEP’s review no later than September 15. As of last Thursday, August 30, Con Edison had not yet provided a response, Mr. McAuliffe said.
During a telephone interview, Mr. McAuliffe said that his department is concerned about the impact the turbines are having on people living nearby. He said that he has heard from both Plymouth and Bourne residents who have had complaints relative to the noise generated by the turbines causing sleep deprivation and anxiety issues. He said that he wants to hear from people in both towns—even though the turbines are in Plymouth—“so we have it on the record.”
“We don’t shun people from Bourne. Any solution, if there are problems, will benefit people from both towns, so we’re trying to determine the issues and what to do about them,” he said.
The report on the sound monitoring study was prepared by Tech Environmental, Inc., of Waltham in May at the request of Con Edison. Supplemental information was provided in June.
Maria E. Pinaud, deputy regional director of MassDEP’s Bureau of Air and Waste, said in a letter to Mr. McAuliffe that Tech Environmental’s report was “comparable to other wind turbine sound studies that DEP has overseen or reviewed in the past.” However, she raised a number of questions and concerns.
Tech Environmental conducted sound monitoring of the turbines in April 2017. In her letter, dated August 2, Ms. Pinaud noted that Tech Environmental never discussed the elements of its study with MassDEP.
“Because none of these elements were previously discussed with MassDEP or described in the Sound Monitoring Protocol, MassDEP was not given the opportunity to provide comments,” Ms. Pinaud said.
She went on to say that sound monitoring results that were presented to Plymouth officials when the turbines were commissioned were not included in Tech Environmental’s report. On June 22, the state requested those results and subsequently received a denial from Con Edison, she said.
Instead, the company stated that a report to the Town of Plymouth showed “Future Generation Wind has met its obligation and demonstrated compliance with the Town of Plymouth’s Zoning Bylaws.” Con Edison said that the report submitted to the Town of Plymouth during the commissioning phase also showed compliance with MassDEP’s own noise policy.
Ms. Pinaud refuted that claim.
“MassDEP was not able to evaluate monitoring data associated with the commissioning phase,” she said.
Tech Environmental conducted sound monitoring of the turbines between the hours of 11 PM and 1 AM. MassDEP requested Tech Environmental provide evidence proving that the hours used are representative of “worst case,” meaning the least amount of ambient, or background, noise in the area.
“MassDEP’s experience with previous turbine sound studies indicates that a 2AM to 3:30AM period is the ‘worst case’ with lowest ambient sound,” the agency’s report said.
The agency also noted that neither the report nor its appendices show the data collected by Tech Environmental during ambient sound testing. MassDEP said that without that data, the agency “cannot make a determination as to whether ambient sound levels were accurately established.”
MassDEP’s review also stated that Tech Environmental did not follow its own protocol for monitoring sound. According to MassDEP, the protocol called for all of the turbines to be operating at the same time “consistent with the MassDEP wind turbine monitoring procedures.” However, MassDEP’s review said that two turbines were not in operation when sound monitoring was conducted.
“No monitoring data is presented in the Report which demonstrates compliance when all four turbines are operating concurrently,” MassDEP stated.
The report also appears to contradict itself, Ms. Pinaud said. The report stated that two turbines are equidistant from a specified location. Later in the report, it is stated that one turbine is “slightly closer” than the other to the same specified location. Ms. Pinaud concluded her letter by stating that her agency cannot accede to Tech Environmental’s findings regarding the turbines compliance.
“MassDEP is unable at this time to concur with Tech Environmental, Inc.’s conclusion presented in the Report that ‘Based on the results of monitoring conducted during late August 2017 through March 2018, all four of the FGW wind turbines are in compliance with MassDEP Noise Policy,’” she said.
Mr. McAuliffe is well aware of the noise complaints being raised by neighbors. He noted that Con Edison has established a mitigation fund to help people affected by the turbines. Money from the fund can be used to pay for measures that will help to shut out noise more effectively, he said. However, that fund is only available to residents of Plymouth, not people from Bourne, he said.
He added that Con Edison is in charge of the fund, not the Town of Plymouth, and he has urged the company to broaden the base of people who can apply for financial assistance.
“I have suggested to Con Edison that they make it available to anyone impacted, to buy new shades, windows, or pay for landscaping, anything to mitigate sound,” he said.
Calls to Con Edison by the Enterprise were not returned.
Edward Coletta, spokesman for MassDEP, said the information that the agency outlined as missing is “crucial to providing a fuller picture of future impacts” to residents caused by the turbines. As to whether MassDEP has the authority to order the turbines shut down, Mr. Coletta said such an order would be up to the Town of Plymouth.
“The Town of Plymouth is the permitting authority. It’s up to the town to determine whether the information is complete and whether turbines should be shut down,” he said.
Mr. Coletta added that the state has not made any determination as to whether the missing information brings into question whether the turbines should have been permitted by the Town of Plymouth. As to the complaints cited by Bourne residents, he said that MassDEP’s advice is to work with Plymouth officials on reaching solutions.
“They’d have to deal with the permitting authority in Plymouth,” he said.
The turbines have been at the center of controversy over their operation. Bourne residents have made a number of appearances before Bourne officials, including selectmen and the board of health, testifying to the variety of ailments caused by the noise emanating from the spinning propellers.
Many have said they suffer from sleep deprivation that leads to anxiety issues. Others have complained of headaches, nausea and dizziness. Bourne officials have said that their hands are tied. Barnstable Superior Court Judge Gary A. Nickerson ruled in April 2016 that because the turbines are in Plymouth, Bourne has no jurisdiction over them.
Judge Nickerson based his ruling on the board of health’s own Wind Energy Conversion System regulations, which state that no one can build a WECS “in the Town of Bourne unless in compliance with these Regulations.” The judge said the town’s own regulations do not authorize the board of health to regulate construction of wind turbines “in the Town of Plymouth.”
Judge Nickerson also stated that the Bourne Board of Health has “broad powers to regulate and prevent nuisances that affect public health.” He suggested that the board of health “may have future legal recourse to combat a nuisance to the town, and its residents.”
Residents pointed out the judge’s proviso to the board of health at a meeting on August 8. The board assured the attendees that it would reach out to MassDEP for advice and report on the agency’s response at the board’s meeting on Wednesday, October 3.