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Wind power grab

FALMOUTH – A nonbinding article on Falmouth’s annual town meeting warrant could prove to be a referendum on the controversial wind turbines at the town wastewater management facility.

The 49-article warrant for the Nov. 7 meeting includes one to halt operation of municipal turbines until there is more research on harm they may cause abutters.

“It’s time that our town officials just step up and take responsibility for a failed project,” said Barry Funfar, who, with other Falmouth turbine opponents, wrote and submitted the article.

Funfar said he collected several more signatures than the 10 necessary for a resident to place an article on an annual town meeting warrant.

He and other abutters have long complained that the 1.65-megawatt Wind 1 turbine causes negative health affects including migraines and vertigo.

The article calls on the town to shut down Wind 1, which began spinning last year, and for a delay of Wind 2 operation until a study proves the turbines do not harm abutters.

However, Funfar plans to amend the language so that operation could continue after “mitigation options are fully explored and the existence of injurious conditions upon nearby residents can be qualified,” he said.

If town meeting members pass the nonbinding article, the decision of whether to adopt it, alter it or ignore it remains in selectmen’s hands.

A town decision in February to shut down Wind 1 when wind speeds reach about 23 mph already costs Falmouth an estimated $350,000 in revenue per year, acting Town Manager Heather Harper said.

A complete shut down of Wind 1 could cost the town about $970,000 in lost revenue annually, Harper said.

That figure includes $644,000 to pay off Wind 1 debt, to pay the cost of maintaining both turbines and to pay for electricity that Wind 1 provides to the wastewater management facility, said Gary Anderson, chairman of the town’s finance committee.

“Clearly this (article) has some financial ramifications,” Anderson said, adding the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center may also require the town to repay $1 million in renewable energy credits that it provided Falmouth.

Falmouth wastewater Superintendent Gerald Potamis, who oversees the turbines, shared Anderson’s concern about the possibility of having to return funds that were provided under the assumption the turbines would be a long-standing energy source.

He specifically pointed to $5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds granted to build the turbines, of which he estimated about $4.5 million was already spent.

Potamis predicted that the grant money could be treated like a loan that the town must pay back if the turbine stops producing electricity.

“They don’t just give you $5 million and let you walk away,” he said.

The financial ramifications of the article concern David Moriarty, who helped draft the article, less than the pain Wind 1 causes abutters.

“We’re not really concerned about the money, we’re concerned about people’s health,” Moriarty said.

In a similar vein, Funfar believes the town should look at the idea as cutting losses rather than losing money.

“It’s a failed project, and they’re going to have to bite the bullet,” Funfar said. “You can’t look at it as losing town money.”

Selectman Brent Putnam said he has heard from both people in favor and opposed to the idea of stopping turbine operation as tests are conducted to find out what effects they have on neighbors’ health, he said.

While he maintains Wind 1 should keep spinning as officials conduct tests, he added that if tests prove turbines do harm abutters, the results could leave the town staring down the barrel of a hefty lawsuit in addition to costs associated with suspending service or decommissioning the turbines.

Selectmen have not yet made a formal recommendation on the article, but expect to discuss the matter at the board’s meeting on Monday, according to Selectman Mary Pat Flynn, chairwoman of the board.