Wind turbine siting and the Falmouth cautionary tale [op-ed Cape Cod Times, 10 December 2013 ] ec 13

The state is trying to come up with guidelines for siting wind turbines to reconcile the state’s wind vision with the view from the actual towns and neighborhoods in which the turbines will be installed.

Presumably they are taking notes on the ongoing cautionary tale (read siting nightmare) of Falmouth. Falmouth has been all over the place trying to solve what at times seems like a tragic situation with no reasonable way out. Tear down the towers, at the cost to the town of $14 million? Town meeting: forget about it.


Selectmen overriding that callousness by reducing use of the turbines to give neighbors a few hours of peace at night. Objections to that leniency by some. The recent judgment, acknowledging “nuisance to nearby residents,” giving sufferers 12 hours reprieve per day plus Sundays and holidays.


Who knows where this will end? Could the state come up with guidelines which would prevent such a mess in the future?


A part of the siting debate involves the hiring of experts to determine whether those complaining about the effects are either lying or imagining things. Of course it’s true that some people are more bothered by bothersome things than others (whether extra traffic from a mall, noise of planes overhead). But it seems both insensitive and a waste of time to declare objections to turbines invalid because experts have determined them to be unobjectionable.


This far along in our experience with turbines it seems clear that they really are objectionable to a lot of people, even when they don’t live near them, on medical, emotional and aesthetic grounds. To some their gangly verticality mars Cape Cod’s naturally horizontal, coastal landscape. It may even bother some that those living close are suffering effects.


Yes, turbines have clear advantages over nukes, fracking, oil, and coal. Some would say they are a necessary part of the climate change fight. But siting wisdom should start by acknowledging that this kind of energy has its own side effects. There is a price to be paid.


The real issue is what to do about unequal distribution of any misery caused.


I’m surprised there isn’t more reference in the local debate to analogous situations. This is not the first time “we” decided something for the “greater good” that would be harder on some fellow citizens than others. There are things we all accept as necessary: highways, hospitals, prisons, airports, for all of which there is a higher price to be paid by neighbors.


The question is: do wind turbines in fact fall into the category of “greater good”? A difference between turbines and airports is that while most would agree that air travel is indispensable, wind power has a reasonable competition, some think a superior option, in solar. At least deciding to forgo flight would be seen by “society” as less reasonable than giving up wind in favor of solar. So the argument for assigning sacrifice to wind turbine neighbors is a harder one to make.


As to whose vision of the greater good should prevail, the state’s or towns’, as bad as Falmouth’s situation is, I can’t see that it would have been better without local control. Leave it to locals in their town meetings to make siting decisions and assign any sacrifices to their fellow citizens, the extent of whose sacrifice is personally known to them. (Let them, in other words, make their own bed knowing who will lie in it.)


Neighbors’ lesser (that is, minority) good can’t be allowed to prevail, but why haven’t we heard more of what seems like an obvious solution to Falmouth’s dilemma: to offer to buy out or arrange to relocate elsewhere in town those complaining? Unlike tearing down the turbines or cutting their use dramatically, this wouldn’t end up costing the town any money since it could sell the houses or rent them out, at no loss if proponents are right about turbines not affecting market values. Turbine victims might not want to accept such an offer but surely it would be better than living on in the misery they have been experiencing.



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