Falmouth ZBA Hears Turbine Permit Request
By: Brent Runyon
Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals held the first public hearing for a proposed wind turbine in Falmouth Technology Park last night.
While the board heard plenty of testimony about potential noise issues, light flicker effect, ice throw, and the size of the turbine compared to other larger projects in town, time ran out before much public comment could be heard.
The applicant, J.K. Scanlan Company, proposes to build a 179-foot tall turbine off Research Road, the only light industrial B-zoned land in Falmouth. It would be 1,310 feet from the nearest abutter on Thomas B. Landers Road.
The board started the hearing after 8 o’clock, following a long hearing to open the night, and stopped testimony at 10 PM, before many of the neighbors and vocal opponents of wind turbines in Falmouth could have their say. The board continued the hearing until January 27 at 6:30 PM, when more public comment will be heard.
Robert H. Ament, attorney representing the applicant, pointed out that the tip of the turbine’s blade would be 265 feet below the nearby Notus Clean Energy turbine, which is built on higher ground.
The proposed turbine is a 225-kilowatt Aeronautica turbine, an American-made product, and it will be 131 feet high at the hub of the tower with three 48-foot turbine blades.
Mr. Ament showed a photo mockup of the turbine compared to the Notus turbine, which also received a special permit from the board of appeals and is the same size as the town-owned turbine at the wastewater treatment plant.
“We think the detriments are very minimal because of the size and the location of the project,” Mr. Ament said, explaining that the turbine will be only minimally audible at the nearest residence, accounting for an increase of two decibels.
Chairman Matthew J. McNamara asked if the sound measurements were recorded while the town turbine and the Notus turbine were operating and was told that they had been.
The nighttime ambient noise at the turbine site is 38 decibels, Mr. Ament reported, and the turbine would raise it to 40 decibels, which cannot be distinguished by the human ear.
Mr. Ament also spoke about a draft bylaw restricting future wind turbines that Mr. McNamara has helped draft to be presented at Town Meeting in the spring. The draft bylaw calls for turbines to be sited 10 times the distance of the rotational diameter of the turbine blades from the nearest single- family residence.
The Scanlan turbine blades are 95 feet from tip to tip, which means the nearest residence could not be within 950 feet of the tower. Mr. Ament said that although that bylaw is not yet in effect, the Scanlan turbine would be well within that standard.
Light flicker and ice throw
The board also heard testimony about light flicker effect, which occurs when the sun shines through the turbine blades, casting a constantly changing shadow.
Mr. Ament said the light flicker effect would potentially only fall on a few houses for a few minutes a day. The most any residence would be exposed to the light flicker effect would be three hours in an entire year.
Board member Patricia J. Favulli asked if the calculations included adjustments for sunny and cloudy days, and was told that they did.
Board member Kenneth H. Foreman asked for a breakdown of the exact times and days that the nearest house might be affected by the turbine, and was told that information was already in the file.
Mr. Ament also argued that the Scanlan turbine is much smaller than the Notus turbine, for which the board conditioned $350,000 be put in escrow for decommissioning. It would only cost $36,000 to take down the Scanlan turbine, he said.
“The board should not require a decommissioning agreement,” he said.
J.K. Scanlan’s 11,800-square-foot office building is within the fall zone for the turbine, but Mr. Ament asked the board to waive the requirements for the fall zone, which is the height of the turbine plus 10 feet.
Ms. Favulli asked how the turbine would be stopped if there was ice buildup on the machine.
Project manager Greg W. Inman said the turbine has technology built into it that shuts it down automatically if the blades become out of balance.
“Technology is wonderful, but we know it also fails,” said Mr. McNamara, and asked about the backup system.
Mr. Inman said the turbine would be shut down manually if the technology failed, but said that the turbine would be shut down in advance of an ice storm to avoid any chance of catastrophic failure.
Vice Chairman Dennis M. Murphy asked if the applicant proposed building a fence around the turbine, which is a requirement of the current bylaw.
Mr. Inman initially said yes, but Mr. Ament then said that Scanlan would only build the fence if the board deemed it necessary. “We think it would be aesthetically nicer without a fence,” he said.
Mr. McNamara asked about ice throw from the turbine blades. “In the worst-case scenario, how far would the ice throw go?” The engineer for the project said 200 to 300 feet maximum.
Mark J. Cool of Blacksmith Shop Road was the only person who was allowed to speak at the hearing before time ran out. Mr. Cool gave testimony about ice throw and turbine interference to radar, and cited different sections of the zoning bylaw.
He said he spoke to an expert about ice throw and was told ice could be thrown 1,500 feet from the town turbine at a maximum velocity of 141 miles per hour.
The board asked the applicant and anyone else submitting additional information to the file to have it in at least seven days in advance of the hearing on January 27.
Although the public comment period of the hearing was cut short, that did not keep one resident from letting his feelings be known.
After the hearing, Colin P. Murphy of Blacksmith Shop Road, one of the opponents of the town-owned turbine, stood in the hallway with John K. Scanlan, Mr. Ament, and the engineer and manager for the project.
“We have to live with it,” Mr. Murphy said. “Why should I have to have these things outside my house? It is not fair.”
His voice carried down the hall to the meeting room, where hearings were still ongoing, until he was told to quiet down or go outside.
Mr. Scanlan and the others who presented the project stood mostly silent and listened to Mr. Murphy’s questions and comments, which focused mostly on the town-owned turbine and the Notus turbine.
“Yours is probably fine,” Mr. Murphy said to Mr. Scanlan. “Yours is probably appropriate. Yours is probably the size the other ones should have been.”
“Mine’s a little baby,” Mr. Scanlan said, as he walked out of town hall alongside Mr. Murphy and Mr. Ament. Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals will hear an application for a special permit for a new wind turbine on Thursday in Falmouth Town Hall at 6:30 PM.