Falmouth’s Board of Selectmen have once again stepped into the breach. This past spring, selectmen took action to curtail operation of a town-owned wind turbine, Wind 1, that has been dogged by complaints from nearby neighbors who say the turbine is damaging their health and quality of life. Now, selectmen have circumvented a controversial town meeting article with a decision to shut down Wind 1 completely.
The move came after the first night of town meeting Monday night ended with voters deeply divided over so-called Article 9 which proposed that operation of Wind 1 be suspended and operation of a second town-owned turbine be delayed until there is more research available on the health impacts of wind turbines, as well as possible mitigation options. According to the Cape Cod Times, Selectmen Chair Mary Pat Flynn met with Assistant Town Manager Heather Harper and Barry Funfar, a representative of impacted abutters, and hashed out a mutually acceptable deal. Here’s what it involves:
Wind 1 will be shut down immediately (although I’ve heard it’s turning this morning), at least until next spring’s town meeting.
Wind 2 will go operational for two months, starting as soon as possible. During that time, any complaints from abutters will be logged by the town.
For the first month, Wind 2 will operate without restrictions. For the second month, it will shut down when wind speeds hit 23 mph – a restriction placed on Wind 1 last spring by selectmen.
The Board of Selectmen voted to approve this measure yesterday evening shortly before town meeting resumed. The first twenty or so minutes of town meeting was devoted to discussion of the measure and ended with a nearly unanimous vote to table the now largely superfluous Article 9 indefinitely.
There are two points I find particularly interesting in this whole affair.
1. On the distinction between Board of Selectmen and other town governance: Think of the Board of Selectmen as the executive branch and town meeting as Congress. The Selectmen can set policy, but town meeting holds the purse strings. The case of Falmouth’s wind turbines is an interesting one because the measures enacted by the Board of Selectmen don’t (can’t) involve actual financial outlays. But they do have distinct financial repercussions for the town. And the Board of Selectmen has been significantly more willing to act on this issue than town meeting or town administrators.
2. On the lack of long-term resolution: This latest measure is a major development, to be sure. But it does not provide a permanent solution to neighbors’ health concerns or the town’s financial concerns. What happens to Wind 1 after next spring’s town meeting, or to Wind 2 after the initial two-month monitoring period, remains up in the air. Will Wind 2 continue operating? How many complaints would warrant shutting it down? How will the town meet the financial costs if they opt for permanent shut-downs?
Basically, the hardest questions – about balancing the need for renewable energy and financial solvency against the health and happiness of citizens – remain unanswered.
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