In ordering the shutdown of Wind 1, the infamous Falmouth wind turbine whose impact on the health of some neighboring residents has provoked a roiling controversy since it was installed, the Falmouth Board of Selectmen shut down more than just one wind turbine. It has shut down the Patrick administration’s ambitious goal of erecting hundreds of similar turbines in the towns along the coast and the hilltops of the commonwealth.
What other community will now follow in Falmouth’s footsteps, knowing where Falmouth has ended up?
The administration has offered every possible inducement to our communities to host these wind developments. They offered low-cost electricity to the towns, and a guaranteed subsidized price for the electricity delivered to the grid. They offered loans, and grants, and renewable energy credits. They offered huge federal and state tax credits, covering well more than half the developers’ costs.
They pushed for legislation to take away the powers of local boards to reject these projects. They watered down the state’s Wetlands Protection Act to clear the way for wind projects.
Using millions of dollars of “renewable energy” and “energy conservation” surcharges paid by the state’s electric customers on their monthly bills, they created a flourishing new line of work for energy consultants, preparing feasibility studies and noise studies and environmental impact statements.
Almost invariably these studies conclude that wind turbines would provide our towns with welcome revenue streams and no adverse impact – and be good for the planet as well.
Despite all these incentives, the administration’s efforts have not met with much success. On Cape Cod alone, wind turbine developments have been rejected in Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Harwich, Brewster, and, most recently, Bourne.
Falmouth is the only town on Cape Cod that fell for the administration’s sales pitch and actually erected such turbines. The administration used Falmouth as the poster child for its plan to erect wind turbines all across the state.
Now Falmouth is shutting its turbine down, at least temporarily. (The Wind 2 turbine is not yet operational.) The town has become the poster child for a very different cause.
This change in course will be expensive. At the second night of Falmouth Town Meeting Nov. 8, where the turbine shutdown debate took place, the cost of repaying the grants and loans for the two town turbines was cited as $10 million. Another $1 million had been borrowed from the state to cover startup and operating costs that would also require repayment.
These are not costs that the town of Falmouth should bear. Along with the afflicted neighbors, the town, too, is an injured party here.
The town is the innocent purchaser of two industrial-size wind turbines that had been rejected by another Cape town. When Wind 1 was erected within a quarter-mile of a local neighborhood, it quickly became clear that neighboring residents’ health and well-being were being adversely affected.
The town was sold a bill of goods; industrial-size wind turbines cannot be safely located that close to residential areas. The state consultant’s representation that such a location would be appropriate, and would have no impact on the neighbors, was clearly wrong.
Once that became clear – and it certainly has by now – at that point the responsibility to fix the situation became the state’s, not the town’s.
The town of Falmouth has recognized it made a mistake, and is taking steps to correct it. The state should, too.
Eric Turkington practices law in Falmouth. He represented Falmouth and the Islands in the state House of Representatives from 1989 to 2009.
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