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Berkshire Residents Urge Local Control Of Wind Projects

Jim Levulis

Nearly 100 Berkshire residents turned out in Pittsfield Monday night to voice their disapproval of industrial wind farms in their backyards.

The public hearing ran longer than three hours as people continuously spoke about turbines negatively impacting human and animal life. They also call them eyesores. It was the third of five hearings to be held by the state’s Department of Public Utilities as part of an effort to research best wind siting practices. In June 2013, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs announced its Community Wind Outreach Initiative. DPU spokesperson Mary-Leah Assad says the guidelines will be established later this year and will be completely voluntary.

“Through the investigation the department is hoping to develop siting guidance for municipalities considering these projects,” Assad said. “As part of that investigation the public hearings in various communities allow for members of the community to provide input on what those best practices are.”

But residents raised concerns that the state is trying to strip away local control of siting projects. The Wind Energy Siting Reform Act has failed to pass the legislature over the past five years, as opponents have said it would do just that and instead appoint a granting authority for all state projects. Kenneth Kelly of Lenox says local input is necessary.

“The environmental, health and financial impacts can be disastrous if such decisions ignore local input and are controlled only by those beholden to the wind power industry,” said Kelly.

Many residents laid into DPU officials, saying they feel like this the state’s latest attempt to bypass local control and the concerns of people living near turbines. Andrew Wells says he has been repeating the same message to various state agencies for years.

“I think unfortunately I have to say you’re extremely disconnected from the suffering you’re causing in people’s lives,” Wells said. “So you’re going to do what you’re going to do and I know that nothing I say is going to make a dime’s worth of difference. It’s taken about eight years for me to realize that this is so. So thank you.”

In 2009, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced a goal of installing 2,000 MW of wind power by 2020, with land-based turbines accounting for roughly 25 percent of energy generated. The largest land-based wind farm in the commonwealth is the Hoosac Wind Project in the town of Florida. Its 19 turbines have a total capacity of 28.5 MW.  George Wislocki of Pittsfield says the Berkshires are not the place for industrial wind projects and won’t be in the future, with Patrick not seeking a third term.

“The reality is, it’s not good for the Berkshires,” Wislocki said. “The quality of life is what we have to sustain. You’re not going to build in the end very many. Your governor will not be sitting a year from now here. You’re at the end game.”

Nancy Shea says she moved her family out of their house located 2,200 feet from the nearest Hoosac wind turbine one month after they started turning in December 2012. She says she experienced dizziness and what she calls “wind turbine syndrome.”

“We tried to get to sleep for a couple hours and the noise ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh,” Shea said. “It sounds like a jet engine over your house that doesn’t go away.”

Wind energy remains controversial across the state as moratoria and restrictions have been put in place. A wind project has been proposed in Peru, where town government has yet to make a decision.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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