Falmouth Town Meeting Approves Funding Turbine Reserve Account

After a lengthy debate on whether to continue funding the wind turbines, Town Meeting voters approved transferring $300,000 from free cash into the wind turbine reserve account.

Town Manager Julian M. Suso said the wind energy receipts no longer financially support the maintenance of the two turbines because of their shortened hours of operation. He anticipates a $250,000 to $280,000 revenue decrease in FY 2015.

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The turbines are running at less than half capacity after a Barnstable County judge in 2013 ordered the town’s two wind turbines located at the wastewater treatment plant to be shut down for 12 hours a day and completely off on Sundays. Mr. Suso said last fiscal year the turbines generated about $422,000, which only paid for the debt service on Wind 1 and operating the turbines will require that an ever-increasing subsidy come from the general fund.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center said last month it would contribute $500,000 to the reserve account, but the deal is contingent on the town earmarking $300,000 to the same account. The agency also said it would award the town up to an additional $85,000 annually for 15 years. Mr. Suso said he has not received the contract yet finalizing the deal.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation circulating about this. What’s being proposed is straightforward. The turbines do not support themselves and we need to set aside money to maintain them. Whether the state does or does not offer financial support is immaterial to this article,” said Mr. Suso.

Questions arose on whether the town should keep cushioning the shortfall with general fund dollars.

“I see this as perpetual $300,000 replenishment,” said Mark C. Alliegro, Precinct 7.

“We gave it our best shot,” said David Moriarty, Precinct 6.  “They’ll never run more than they’re running now,” he added.

Mr. Suso said about $176,000 in turbine expenses will come from the general fund revenue in FY2015. The reserve account will only be used if the turbines’ operation is reduced more.

Deborah Siegal, Precinct 6, offered an amendment to put two-thirds of the $300,000 into a wind turbine stabilization account, which would require a two-thirds town meeting vote to spend.

“This is for the sake of transparency. It gives us [Town Meeting members] more control on how to spend the money,” Ms. Siegal said. After 30 minutes of debate, the amendment failed.

Falmouth’s finance director Jennifer Petit clarified the article, as written, requires a majority vote from Town Meeting to transfer funds.

“Every time money is proposed to go into this account, it has to be approved by you first. We’re talking about either by a majority or by two-thirds,” Ms. Petit said.

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  • MCool

    According to the FINCOM vice-chair during a first night explanation, a reserve fund is to be used for extraordinary and unforeseen expenditures. This was confirmed by the town's finance director as well as the town's own definition of “Reserve Fund.” The wind reserve account funds cannot be used for known reoccurring operating expenditures. This Fiscal Year’s operating wind deficit is $176,589. That bill was paid from free cash (from the General Fund). Mr. Suso has projected that the future reoccurring operating wind deficits will increase ($250K - $280 annually). The the town's finance director gave definition, during address to school budget and stabilization funds, what General Funds support. Reoccurring town operating expenses! Mr. Suso said the wind deficit is due to court imposed OPERATING restrictions. The restrictions to operations are REOCCURRING (6 days a week). The resulting wind deficit thus becomes REOCCURRING. Next spring Town Meeting, members will likely be asked for to cover wind turbine operating shortfalls (Suso’s projection $250,000-$280,000). ALL BECAUSE the Wind Turbine Reserve Account is to be used ONLY in extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances. REOCCURRING operating deficits due to known operating restrictions do not qualify as extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances. WHY DIDN’T Suso, Petit or Lowell explain this? Do they feel the town is exempt from it’s own rules? Wouldn’t be the first time.