The wind turbines at the Falmouth wastewater treatment plant site will not operate within the town again.
“I’ve been dealing with this issue for many, many years and I have no interest in having anything to do with these turbines run in the town of Falmouth again,” Selectman Douglas H. Jones said at the board’s meeting on Monday, January 14.
Mr. Jones said the the wind turbines were installed to generate clean energy.
“If they can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week someplace else, then that is what should happen,” he said.
Selectmen voted 4-0-1, with Selectman Samuel H. Patterson abstaining, to not relocate the turbines within the town. The board then voted unanimously to ask town administration to create requests for proposals to either leasing property outside of Falmouth to run the wind turbines, sell the turbines, or re-purposing a wind turbine tower as a cellphone and repeater tower.
Mr. Jones advocated for relocating the turbines out of town. He named Joint Base Cape Cod as a possibility.
“I know there are properties big enough where having these turbines [is] without issue,” Mr. Jones said.
Town Manager Julian M. Suso said it would cost approximately $500,000 to $1 million to dismantle, decommission and remove each turbine. In addition, there are bond payments of $3.6 million remaining for Wind 1, which the town is required to pay.
“The Town of Falmouth went out to borrow to finance the cost of Wind 1,” Mr. Suso said, noting that cost cannot be avoided.
Mr. Jones added the town has already voted for and approved that expense.
“It is going to be part of our operating cost regardless,” he said.
The town borrowed $4,865,000 from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust to construct Wind 2. The loan agreement states the town would not owe principal or interest as long as Wind 2 remains operational. Due to Wind 2’s past operation, the town’s obligation has been reduced to $3.5 million. Mr. Suso said it is not clear if the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust would forgive that debt if the turbine operates outside of Falmouth.
Mr. Jones questioned this.
“Why, if it runs somewhere else, do we have to pay the loan, but we don’t have to if we run it here?” he asked. “Why do they care if it’s in Falmouth, Gardner or Virginia?”
Mr. Suso said there is a lack of certainty with the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust.
“They declined to give us definitive information,” Mr. Suso said.
“Their response, essentially, and I’m paraphrasing, was ‘once you’ve reached an agreement with a third party, we will assess that and let you know,’ which obviously is not sufficient enough to give us the kind of confidence we need.”
Selectman Megan E. English Braga said the turbines proved to be a massive burden on the town.
“This is going to hurt every single person in this town,” Ms. English Braga said.
“There are implications in terms of taxes and resources. This particular situation has, and we don’t need to get into the history of it, hurt a lot of people in town.”
Mr. Suso also estimated the cost of relocating Wind 2 to a more suitable site on the wastewater treatment plant property to be $3.025 million. The alternative site would place the turbine approximately 2,100 feet from the nearest residence. A report from the design and engineering firm Weston & Sampson estimates a relocated turbine could generate $10 million in revenue over 20 years.
“I think that is much too close,” Selectman Douglas C. Brown said. “I don’t think it really fits. I think we just need to face that. I don’t think it will work on that site.”
Mr. Brown said if the town could not find an out-of-town location for the turbines, they could re-purpose one as a cellphone tower.
Selectman Patterson asked if new technology could be installed on the towers to make the turbines quieter. Stephen Wiehe of Weston & Sampson said newer turbines are marginally quieter, reducing the noise by one or two decibels. However, the smaller, quieter turbines produce less energy.
“Retrofitting it is probably not realistic,” Mr. Wiehe said.
Members of the public also argued against relocating Wind 2 in town.
“Unfortunately, it was a poor choice that I believe was forced upon us by powers greater than the town of Falmouth,” said David R. Moriarty of Lower Road, East Falmouth. “We took the hook and bait and were left holding the bag.”
Marc P. Finneran of Trotting Park Road, East Falmouth, said the town should not repay the loan.
“I wouldn’t pay them a dime,” Mr. Finneran said. “I’d tell them to come and get it. They led us down this path. They have some culpability here.”
Daniel H. Shearer of Old Dock Road, West Falmouth, advocated for using the wind turbine tower as a cell tower, arguing West Falmouth needs a cellphone tower to boost wireless connectivity.
“If we have an emergency on the beach, you can’t call from Chapoquoit Beach on a cellphone,” Mr. Shearer said. “Let’s do something good with what we have here, and get rid of the rest.”
H. Russel Lemcke of Quonset Road, Falmouth, said while he did not have experience with wind turbines, he has business experience.
“After some time, a community or business comes to a point where they realize it is time to cut your losses,” Mr. Lemcke said.
The two wind turbines have remained controversial since their installation in 2009 and 2010. Wind 1 was shut down in September 2015 after the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals issued a cease-and-desist order. Wind 2 was shut down in June 2017, after Barnstable County Superior Court judge Cornelius J. Moriarty II upheld the zoning board of appeals decision deeming the turbines a nuisance.
In December 2017, building commissioner Rodman L. Palmer ordered the removal of Wind 1 as a non-complying structure under the town’s Wind Energy System bylaw. Under this bylaw, wind facility that fails to operate for 12 consecutive months is considered abandoned.
A similar complaint was made regarding Wind 2 last June, but Mr. Palmer determined the structure had not been abandoned by the town, as the town continued to perform periodic maintenance to preserve it for relocation.