Wind Farms and the Necessity of Evil

Find any potential municipal energy source, and you’ll find the same debate: The big-picture camp who touts the source as the future of local generation and an economic boon to the area. The second camp stands opposed, shrinks the debate right down to the individual level, and claims to be unwilling grist for the kilowatt-producing mill.

But the debate here isn’t about coal plants, fracking, or hydroelectric dam projects, it’s about wind turbines and the possibly-casual-but-definitely-real effects they’re having on some residents of Falmouth, who have the misfortune of living near the 400-foot towers.

But first, rewind: Falmouth, like other municipalities on Cape Cod, installed two wind turbines on town land to help the state meet Gov. Deval Patrick’s mandate to have 80,000 homes powered by green technologies by the end of the decade (25 percent from land-based generation), and to cash in on the Cape’s winds.

Since the blades started turning last year, residents have slowly come forward claiming negative health impacts including migraines, to vertigo, to difficulty sleeping. They attribute these variously to the intermittent shadows cast by the turning blades, as well as pressure changes, vibrations and erratic noises emanating from the turbines. Attempts to measure the sounds, however, have shown they don’t violate any standards for volume.

Last night, Falmouth residents took up the debate at town meeting, pitting the vocal few living very near the towers to the rest of the town which needs the turbines to turn to turn into electricity and money. By 11:30 p.m. last night, according to reports, no action had been reached on a nonbinding resolution to ask the selectmen to at least consider further restriction for the tower (in February, the selectmen voted to shut down the turbines when winds top 23 mph, a move that costs the town an estimated $350,000 per year). Shutting the towers down completely could cost the town $11 million.

Unlike energy-related debates elsewhere, what’s new here is the town actually owns the towers. In mountaintop removal mining or fracking, the town leases the production areas to an unaffiliated energy gatherer, which is typically viewed as both an uncaring corporate giant with dollar signs in its eyes, and a necessary evil.

Maybe municipal ownership will mean some hope for the sleep-deprived, vertigo-suffering residents of Falmouth, but I doubt it. If I were a betting man, I’d say those residents will move or be displaced before those blades ever stop spinning. It seems like the ones downstream or downwind of the energy source are always fighting these types of fights, and if they ever win (which is rare), it’s on the litigious, class-action backend.