The Fairhaven Board of Health voted unanimously to shut down the town's two wind turbines between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. beginning tonight. The vote was made at a joint meeting of the boards of health and selectmen in a packed banquet room. After the three board members approved the motion to shut down the turbines at night, which was made by Chairman Peter DeTerra, the a roughly 30-person audience erupted in applause.The turbines were recently found to be exceeding noise limits ... by less than 3 decibels. Three decibels is so small I don't even know how to describe it in words - it's like trying to describe the difference between 3/4 of an inch and one inch. The loudest turbine noise measured in Fairhaven was 12.9 decibels. A whisper in a quiet library from six feet away is 30 decibels.
“It's time to let this town heal,” DeTerra said.
The state's noise sampling is not even complete and there are simple fixes, like changing their angle to the wind, that can reduce the nighttime noise of wind turbines while still allowing them to collect lots of free clean energy. But this is not about logic! This is about rabid ideology, so we get the public policy equivalent of Walter Peck shouting SHUT IT OFF NOW in Ghostbusters.
A comprehensive state study found there is no scientific evidence wind turbines have any health effects. To be clear, I have no doubt people feel sick. But as one researcher put it, "only a tiny proportion of people living near turbines do actually complain and, when they do, the complaints coincide with campaigning from anti-wind groups." And in Fairhaven's case, many of the people complaining about the turbines are the same people who didn't want them built in the first place. Imagine that.
Much easier to measure is just how much this is going to cost Fairhaven taxpayers. Fairhaven makes $200,000 to $500,000 per year on the turbines - $100,000 per year in direct lease payments, along with $100,000 to $400,000 per year in energy savings. That's a ton of money anywhere, but in a town of 15,873 with per capita incomes and property values that lag well behind the state averages, that is an absolute boatload of money. And that doesn't even begin to count the savings of switching from dirty energy to clean energy, like fewer asthma attacks and lower climate-disrupting carbon pollution.
Anti-wind activists spent heavily to fund candidates in recent town elections backed by the wind hypochondria group Windwise (motto: "None of us are out there with cleavers hacking off bird heads to make a point."). In general, setting local election dates in springtime is done with low turnout in mind to let hardcore activists have a louder voice in local decision-making, and it worked in Fairhaven's case, with a turnout of just 20%.
Note today's vote was held while most town residents were at work or school in front of only a few dozen people. But calling all this a success for anti-wind activists implies there was even a fight - just as in Falmouth, the traditional pro-wind coalition of conservationists and the wind industry has refused to fight entirely. Unless clean energy supporters are willing to take some heat from the fringe by pointing out publicly that "wind turbine syndrome" is usually code for "I don't like looking at them and I REALLY don't like any change at all in my community," what's good for our economy, energy security & public health will keep taking a back seat to NIMBYs.
UPDATE 6/11: Just saw this op-ed from Gordon L. Deane, president of Palmer Capital Corporation in Cohasset, on how wind hypochondriacs have bullied Fairhaven's reasonable majority into silence.
UPDATE 7/5: Like the Friends of Fairhaven Wind page on Facebook, which in just two weeks already has five times more fans than the two-year-old anti-wind WindWise page.