Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Analysis group began a discussion on Tuesday about the short-term and long-term financial implications of shutting down the town-owned wind turbines at the wastewater treatment plant on Blacksmith Shop Road.
Town assessor and group member David Bailey said the town will need to raise $644,000 in funds if the turbines do not operate in Fiscal Year 2014. That number includes $524,000 to pay the debt on Wind 1 and ongoing turbine maintenance for one year, and $120,000 to pay for electricity at the wastewater treatment plant. That is just less than $54,000 every month that the turbines do not operate, he said.
When Falmouth committed to putting up the wind turbines, the town put $1 million into a wind turbine stabilization account in case the turbines were not operational at all times, Mr. Bailey said. The $1 million was expected to last for the entire 20-year lifetime of the turbines, he said; as of July 1, the balance in the account is $168,000.
The curtailments and shutdowns of the turbines over the two years since Wind 1 began operating resulted in the account being depleted, he said. The money was used to make up for the cost of energy the wind turbines have not generated, he said.
“It’s buying stuff with a credit card, except there’s no revenue to pay off the credit card,” Mr. Bailey said. The finances of the wind turbines are complex, he said, and involve debt, maintenance, and the sale of renewable energy credits (RECs).
The overall impact is that the Fiscal Year 2014 budget will have to be cut by about $100,000 if the turbines are not operational, Mr. Bailey said.
Linda E. Davis, an alternate member of the group, said she was unclear about the financial implications of shutting down the turbines temporarily. Since finalizing the budget is an ongoing and involved process, it does not make sense that turning off the wind turbines would result in a deficit, she said. “I would really like to see how it fits into the overall picture,” she said. There are some in town who say that if the wind turbines do not run, the town would not have enough money for salaries and employees may be required to take furlough days, she said.
Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper said the break-even point is $644,000, but the annual revenue that is lost if the wind turbines do not operate is $975,000 a year. The Falmouth Board of Selectmen have already made concessions in curtailing and shutting down the turbines, she said.
“We’ve given up a lot to try to accommodate , and it’s not a small attempt,” Mr. Bailey said.
Shutting Down Turbines: Long-Term Implications
Group member Kathy Driscoll said there are also long-term financial implications of shutting down the wind turbines. “Turning off the wind turbines is going to affect not only one year, but 20 years,” she said.
According to figures compiled by Assistant Wastewater Superintendent Amy Lowell and handed out to the group, the town would have to repay $11 million in loans and grants, if the turbines do not operate. The $11 million total includes a $5 million loan for Wind 1, a $5 million federal grant for Wind 2, which would be converted into a loan if the turbines did not operate, and $1 million to repay the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center for prepurchasing renewable energy credits over the 20-year life of the turbines. The $11 million figure did not include the cost of dismantling and removing the wind turbines, storage, short-term or long-term care.
The town took the $5 million grant from the federal government, Mr. Bailey said. “That grant was to put up a wind turbine, not as a monument, but to produce energy and if it doesn’t do that, we will have to pay that money back,” he said.
But group member Jeffrey W. Oppenheim said he did not want to make any assumptions about paying back the federal grant. If the wind turbine project is not viable for Falmouth, it may not be necessary to pay that money back, he said.
The residents who live near the town-owned turbines did not attend the meeting, and unlike the two previous meetings, there were no empty seats at the table. Facilitator Stacie N. Smith of the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge said the seats were left open “in spirit.”
Mr. Oppenheim and Judith Fenwick met with the affected neighbors last Saturday and plan to meet with them again this weekend. Mr. Oppenheim said he feels his role is to try to communicate between the group and the neighbors. Ms. Smith referred to this as “shuttle diplomacy.”
Mr. Oppenheim also said the neighbors have asked if their statement of principles will be posted on the town website along with the other information about the wind turbine process. Ms. Smith asked if posting the neighbors principles was okay with the rest of the group.
“I don’t know if that’s okay with me,” said group member Joseph L. Hackler. He said he was very sensitive to the neighbors choosing not to participate in the process and then impacting it from the outside.
“I’m trying to represent the party not sitting here,” Mr. Oppenheim said.
“By their own choice,” Mr. Hackler added.
The neighbors feel they cannot participate in the process because the wind turbines are still running, but have said they would like to participate, Mr. Oppenheim said.
Work Must Go On With Or Without Neighbors
“If they want to be part of the process they can just come and be part of the process,” Mr. Hackler said. “I want them here at the table,” but if the wind turbine neighbors will not participate, the group will have to go on.
Robert Shea, the town GIS coordinator and a group member, said the group cannot waste any more time talking about people who are not at the table. “We have a lot of work to do and we need to get to work,” he said.
“I think it is absolutely essential not to shut them out of this process,” said new group member James R. Luyten of Fire Tower Road. “This is just feeding the polarization, rather than trying to mediate it.” Mr. Luyten is an economically impacted abutter of the wind turbines, but does not represent the neighbors who feel their health has been affected.
Group members Karen M. Cardeira and Megan C. Amsler began compiling a time line of the municipal wind turbine project in Falmouth dating back to 2004, when the town did the first wind study. The time line includes seven Town Meeting votes between 2007 and 2009 authorizing the project. Operations of Wind 1 began on April 6, 2010, and neighbors’ complaints began that same day. Over the next two years, the town made various attempts to mitigate the problems through maintenance and curtailment, while the neighbors have asked repeatedly for the turbines to be shut down.
Most recently, selectmen voted to shut down Wind 1 and Wind 2 from 7 PM to 7 AM every night. Wind 1 is not operational right now because Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection found that the noise from the turbine exceeded acceptable limits at one of the residential homes during the middle of the night. Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn told the group that Wind 1 will return to operations between 7 AM to 7 PM this week.
The most recent entry on the time line, which spans five pages, is the Falmouth Board of Health decision on Monday to send a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health requesting a study into the health effects of wind turbines and guidance on whether an emergency shutdown of the turbines in town is necessary.
Christina C. Rawley, a resident of Fay Road, Woods Hole, and the owner of a small turbine in her back yard, spoke during the public comment period at the end of the meeting.
“Climate change is real,” she said. “Our town had the good sense to make an investment in clean, clean energy,” she said, but the turbines are now being blamed for negative health effects. Everyone in the community is suffering from negative health effects from other sources of energy production, including oil, coal, nuclear and gas, she said.
Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Analysis group will meet again on Tuesday at Gus Canty Community Center at 6:30 PM.