Last week Weston & Sampson completed its charge from selectmen to identify a range of options for addressing the problems being caused by the town-owned wind turbine at the Wastewater Treatment Facility.
Mary (Pat) Flynn, chairman of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen, anticipates that there will be a public discussion on the matter within the next month to prioritize the possible solutions for the wind turbine dilemma. Ultimately, she said, Town Meeting would be involved, responsible for making the decision on which mitigation option to pursue.
“If we are going to curtail the operation permanently, it changes the revenue and budget and Town Meeting will have to vote on that,” Ms. Flynn said. “If we decide to remove them [the turbines], that will have to go to a vote of Town Meeting. Anything related to money, over and above what is in our budget, will take a vote of Town Meeting.”
In front of selectmen are a number of possibilities that start with two extremes. The First one would be for the town to do nothing, an option that would be of no cost to Falmouth. According to data provided by Weston & Sampson, not curtailing the operation of either of the two wind turbines would bring the town a total of $975,821 a year in revenue.
With the other extreme, Falmouth could elect to remove or relocate Wind-1 and the yet-to-be commissioned Wind-2, which would require the town to hire a contractor to dismantle the turbines and store them on-site or estimate the salvage or resale value of the machines. Stephen Wiehe of Weston & Sampson pointed out that the costs would be on top of the debt already encumbered by Falmouth to purchase and erect the turbines.
He also wrote that additional research would need to be done on the contracts and agreement for the turbines to determine if there are any penalties or restitution to be paid because of a failure to meet the required electricity. At minimum, he wrote that Falmouth would likely have to repay the $1 million it received from the Renewable Energy Trust for renewable energy certificates to be generated between the years of 2015 and 2029, when the turbines are in operation.
Weston & Sampson said it would require roughly two to three weeks, at a cost of anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000, to come up with more definitive figures for this option. Another potential option would be to relocate the turbines somewhere else on town-owned land in Falmouth. Weston & Sampson estimated this would take from two to three weeks and cost $5,000 to $7,000 to investigate this possibility.
In the document, Mr. Wiehe wrote that “the viability of this option is questionable and would rely on the availability and suitability of town-owned lands.”
A number of other options would allow the two turbines to remain although the town would either have to pay for modifications to the homes of affected homeowners or curtail the operation of the machines during certain wind speeds, times of year or weather conditions. In terms of altering residential properties, possible solutions could be to install noise barriers or blackout shades or to soundproof homes or make them vibration-proof. The analysis for all these choices, according to Weston & Sampson, would cost anywhere from $6,000 to $9,000 and require an additional six to eight weeks to complete.
Based on sound studies completed by Harris Miller Miller & Hanson of Burlington in September, Weston & Sampson is recommending increasing the cut-in wind speed of only one of the turbines between midnight and 3 AM when wind speeds are at 8 meters per second. The cut-in wind speed is when the turbine starts supplying power to the grid. “This operational modification (once Wind II is operational), in our opinion, maintains town’s compliance with the DEP’s criteria for allowing no more than 10 DBA increase above background sound levels and has the least impact on the turbine production,” Mr. Wiehe wrote.
Under this scenario the town would receive an estimated $960,258 in annual revenue from the operation of the wind turbine. It would cost Falmouth $5,000 to $7,000, and require three to four weeks of work, to study the curtailment of the wind turbine under certain conditions and at certain times.
If Falmouth wanted to adopt seasonal modifications to address flicker and ice throw, Weston & Sampson estimated an analysis of this option would cost in the range of $4,000 to $6,000 and take three to four weeks to complete.
The Department of Environmental Protection may require Falmouth to conduct additional sound studies related to the turbine, costing the town anywhere from $14,000 to $20,000 to complete. If the town were to seek tests for low frequency and infrasound measurements, that price tag would be between $6,000 and $10,000 and could take up to eight weeks to complete.
And there is a cost for Weston & Sampson or its consultants to end its expertise at meetings with town officials and community members. That is valued at $1,200 to $1,500 per meeting. If it were to prepare a presentation, that amount doubles, costing the town $3,000 to $5,000 each.
The memo clearly shows that the town will have to pay for additional information before it comes to a decision on what to do with the wind turbines. Ms. Flynn said that is the prudent choice to make. “We have to be well-enough in-formed. We are a volunteer board and we are not technical experts on any of this,” she said. “If we are spending taxpayer money we have to be sure of what we are doing…. We need to get enough information to be able to make these decisions.”
While it appeared it could be several months before the town arrives at a final solution, Ms. Flynn pointed out that selectmen have already taken action, voting in February to shut down the turbine when wind speeds reach roughly 23 miles per hour. “It isn’t like we haven’t done anything,” she said, before she also mentioned the two public forums selectmen held in June and July on the issue.
“This isn’t just our decision,” she said. “We are trying to gather facts so Town Meeting can make a knowledgeable vote on what course of action to take. There is no rushing this. We need to be careful and cautious about what we do because we made a strong commitment to build these turbines over a period of five or six years.”
J. Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive, West Falmouth, was appreciative of the recent steps selectmen have taken, but was hopeful there could be more dialogue on the matter. “There has been no opportunity for question and answer. I think that would be very beneficial, but it is encouraging to see what selectmen have done as far as having a couple public meetings and allowing both sides to present information,” he said. “I think it’s been terrific and it’s helped.”
And the vote in February to shut down the machine during higher wind speeds, he said, has provided abutters with some relief. “It is not the total answer, but it is better,” he said. He was hopeful that within a month selectmen will lay out a clearer path as to where they are going. He understood that any final decision would rest in the hands of Town Meeting. At the same time, he had concerns about the wisdom of commissioning further studies. “I think the time for studies is pretty much over. It’s been studied to death,” he said, before qualifying that slightly. “It seems like they are spending all this extra money [on studies], but I guess they have to know what they are dealing with numbers-wise.”
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