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Dartmouth pulls plug on turbine project

DARTMOUTH – With about 40 people expressing their approval through applause, the Select Board voted unanimously Monday night to terminate plans to build two wind turbines on town-owned land off Chase Road.

Town officials said they are making the decision because solar energy produces greater financial rewards and also because of a regulatory restriction that limits how much electricity a municipality can sell a utility.

David G. Cressman, the town’s executive administrator, said between the town’s solar projects at Energy Park off Old Fall River Road and at the former landfill, Dartmouth will generate 9.67 megawatts of electricity.

He said state law limits municipal net metering to 10 megawatts and the turbines would put Dartmouth over that limit.

Select Board Chairman Michael P. Watson said the town will realize $13.3 million over 20 years from the two solar projects and it would have received between $3 million and $5 million from the two 262-foot turbines over that same time span.

“It’s quite clear to me the financial benefits from the wind project are not even close in comparison to solar,” he said.

In January of last year, the Select Board approved a permit for the turbines over the objection of neighbors and after more than four years of study.

Town Meeting approved $9.2 million to purchase and construct the turbines later that same month.

Neighbors countered by filing a lawsuit in Superior Court, hoping to block the project.

But Cressman said the town pursued solar initiatives “on parallel tracks” with its plans for the turbines.

And after signing a contract last week for the solar project off Old Fall River Road, he said there was no room on its net metering load for the turbines.

Neighbors celebrated in Town Hall after the decision.

Jeanne Nesto, one of the organizers, cried. “It has been a long time. I’m so relieved,” she said, wiping away tears.

She said the 45 families who fought the project did so because of possible health concerns with the turbines near their homes. She said it wasn’t because of any opposition to alternative energy.

David Costa and Nesto said the families held fundraisers and raised nearly $60,000 to hire attorneys and engineers to fight the project.

“I’m very excited. The amount we have spent has been incredible. It has been an ordeal,” he said.

“I commend the board for making the right decision,” said Don Neves, an opponent of the project.

But Beverly Days, an opponent of the project who doesn’t live near the site of the turbines, was still upset after the decision because she felt the health questions surrounding the project were so serious that town officials should not have shelved the project sooner.

“I think it’s appalling what the town did to these people,” she said. “They aren’t collateral damage.”

Watson, Cressman and other Select Board members defended their pursuit of the wind project, saying they were doing their “due diligence” and spent “hundreds of hours” researching the issues.

Watson said the town acted carefully throughout the process and Cressman said he felt their approach in pursuing the turbines was “measured and reasonable.”

Select Board member Joseph L. Michaud said initially it seemed wind would be more financially beneficial to the town. But he said when solar power became the more attractive alternative, the town adapted.

Select Board member William J. Trimble said he weighed the costs, which included the expense of defending the town against the neighbors’ lawsuit, against the benefits and decided to vote to terminate the wind project.

“It doesn’t look like the benefit is there to justify the cost,” he said.

Select Board member Lara H. Stone said one of the benefits with solar is its acceptance by the public.

“You’ve got to love solar power,” she said. “There are no waves at all with the public.”

Select Board member Shawn D. McDonald said the issue held the potential to split the town in half but it didn’t because of the way the discussion was conducted.

He said occasionally people became “hot” but for the most part they kept their composure.

“I applaud both sides for the way they have conducted themselves in this debate,” he said.