Cape Cod Wind Turbine Syndrome: Are They 'Whiners' or Not?


But voices of reason ask why shouldn't the town, which voted to erect the turbines, continue to operate them. "Wind is free," said 67-year-old East Falmouth resident and ecologist William R. Funk. "Turbines are not."

"Complaints vary," he told me. "Negative reaction may have a biological basis, as some people are allergic to penicillin, some are not. The town should do something for those negatively affected. Options include: buy owners property, assist owners with purchase of soundproofing material, for example, more sturdy, sound-reducing windows, and negotiate with individual owners for individual solutions."

Still, Funk adds, "The town voted for the things. The whiners should accept the will of the majority. Full stop."

At least one town proposal to buy a home may soon be in the offing because of a lawsuit brought by one of Hobart's neighbors, Neil Andersen, 60. At a recent hearing in Barnstable Superior Court, the town agreed to make him an offer, but he is awaiting another court appearance before it is finalized by a judge.

But Andersen told me, "I have not agreed to sell it to them, and they have not offered to purchase it. There is a long way to go before we get to that point."

"Just come in to my house and feel the walls shaking," he said. "People who sit on my front porch have to leave within a half hour -- they felt it."

Since 2010, the wind turbines have provided much of the community's energy. Two are owned by the town of Falmouth and one, in an industrial park near four-lane Route 28, is privately owned by Notus Clean Energy.

The town had cut back its operations to 18 hours a day to appease complainants, and in a new offer to residents has tentatively agreed to run the turbines only 12 hours a day, according to a recent Superior Court hearing, which has cost the town an estimated $214,000 a year.

The Notus turbine sits atop a hill in remote Falmouth Technology Park. Its scissor-like propellers cut through the blue sky, emitting a whooshing noise that, when they hit the wind at a certain angle, sound like a jet taking off in the distance. On the partly sunny Monday I visited, the circular motion of its arms created a pulsating and mesmerizing shadow on the ground below.

That turbine runs 24 hours a day and, according to owner Dan Webb, generates 5 million kWh of electricity annually, preventing emissions of more than 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide from conventional generation plants.

Many say these residents have fallen victim to some kind of psychological contagion, just as some suggest in the case with the 19 teenagers from LeRoy, N.Y., who developed fluttering fingers, throat noises, fainting and seizures. Their mysterious Tourette's-like symptoms eventually disappeared. One girl, though, continues to insist her symptoms are caused by chronic Lyme disease.

At least one 2013 study on wind turbines shows a correlation between the power of suggestion and negative symptoms.

Hobart said once she left her house on Blacksmith Shop Road last year, her symptoms disappeared. Her Harvard doctor has said that some medical susceptibilities could trigger what's come to be called wind turbine syndrome, a mysterious illness he is not willing to rule out. And age, he said, could also figure in, as many of those who complain of symptoms are over 50.

I am no stranger to tinnitus or to migraines -- or to the power of suggestion.

So as I walk alone round Hobart's ranch like a sleuth, pushing away overgrown brush and ivy across a garden path, I am skeptical. The garage is empty except for an overturned cooler and the remnants of a project, perhaps a wedding trellis, made of white birch. I peer into the living room, which is devoid of furniture and seems ghostlike. Some of the shingling above a French door has begun to rot.

Settling on the front stoop, I know there is a giant wind turbine, whirling softly and silently at my back, but it is peaceful in this undisturbed spot -- near the dream house that Sue Hobart says she left out of fear that she would never get well again. It feels as if, with a little cleaning up, I could happily live here.

The self-described "townies" I met at Falmouth's Holiday Inn Express bar before I set out to view the turbines tell me they view people like Sue Hobart as complainers.

So far, Hobart said she has had few offers for her house and said she had been forced to drop the price. But many houses are still selling, even in these neighborhoods, say the Falmouth residents I spoke to.

And I begin to wonder if the man I encountered on the first Blacksmith Shop Road might be right. Are they "nuts"? Or is that a slight pressure I feel in my sinuses? Maybe it's time to go.

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