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Deal reached on Falmouth wind turbines

FALMOUTH – Wind 1 will halt operation immediately after town officials struck a deal with one of the municipal wind turbine’s opponents.

“Wind 1 will remain out of service … until the April 2012 annual town meeting,” said Selectman Mary Pat Flynn, chairwoman of the board.

In turn, Wind 2 will begin spinning as soon as possible and the town will log complaints for a two-month period to see how abutters react, Flynn added.

Falmouth’s second night of town meeting on Tuesday began with round two of Monday night’s discussion of Article 9, an initiative to shut down Wind 1 and delay Wind 2 until “mitigation options are fully explored and the existence of injurious conditions upon nearby residents can be qualified.”

Some abutters have long complained the 1.65-megawatt Wind 1, which stands at the town’s wastewater treatment plant, causes negative health effects such as migraines and vertigo. The Wind 2 turbine is also located at the wastewater treatment plant but farther away from Blacksmith Shop Road, where many of the Wind 1 opponents live.

“We hashed over it and kind of came to a compromise,” said Barry Funfar, who submitted the article.

Funfar met with Flynn and Assistant Town Manager Heather Harper earlier in the day and came to the agreement, which essentially tests alleged negative effects from turbines on abutters of Wind 2. Selectmen voted unanimously in favor of the compromise in a meeting shortly before town meeting continued at 7 p.m.

Flynn outlined the plan to town meeting members, who subsequently voted to indefinitely postpone Article 9.

In its first month of operation, there will be no curtailments on Wind 2, Flynn said. During the second month, it will adhere to the same restrictions selectmen put on Wind 1 in February, which include shutting down the turbine when wind speeds reach 23 mph. Town officials will log all complaints associated with the turbine during this time.

The less than 30-minute discussion of the matter before a nearly unanimous town meeting vote was uncharacteristic of the typically lengthy and often heated exchanges that have defined the debate since Wind 1 began spinning last year.

Just one night before, town officials and residents argued over the alleged health concerns caused by Wind 1 versus the potential financial consequences of a possible long-term shutdown until about 11:30 p.m. before the matter was postponed until Tuesday night.

During Monday night’s debate, Amy Lowell, the town’s assistant wastewater manager, estimated the town would find itself responsible for paying about $11 million in back grants, renewable energy credits and other costs if they agreed to a long-term shutdown of Wind 1. Harper previously estimated a complete shutdown of Wind 1 would cost Falmouth about $970,000 in lost revenue annually.

Town meeting members on Tuesday approved Article 30, an expenditure of $98,000, that would go toward paying for electricity that Wind 1 would have provided, Flynn said.

Happy with the compromise, Funfar said the decision was good news for Wind 1 abutters but predicted neighbors of Wind 2 would soon feel the strain he said Wind 1 abutters have.

“We have one group of people that’s very happy,” Funfar said after the vote, “and another that should get ready to get their socks knocked off.”

The starting date for Wind 2 remains unclear after an NStar analysis earlier this year led the utility to require the town to equip the turbine with a device enabling a remote shutoff by the company if its electricity production overloads the power grid.

Whether or not Wind 2 would remain functional after two months is also uncertain, Funfar said.