The town-owned wind turbines at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Plant must be operating about 16 hours a day to break even. That is about four hours longer each day than they are currently running.
Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process members discussed that situation in detail on Wednesday and asked for more information about the specifics of what it would mean for neighbors and the town to change the operations of the turbines to reach that goal. The group is considering four packages of options to solve the problems with the two 1.65-mega-watt town-owned wind turbines at the wastewater treatment plant.
Right now both town-owned wind turbines are on half the day, from 7 AM to 7 PM, year-round, but that is not enough to cover the costs of the turbines. All told, the cost for running both turbines is about $644,000 a year, said facilitator Stacie N. Smith of the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge. The projected revenues from both turbines running at full power year-round is $975,000, according to a report furnished to the group. “You would need to run them about 66 percent of the time to break even,” Ms. Smith said.
The annual costs of the turbines include the debt service, operations and maintenance and the electricity at the treatment plant. Tony Rogers, a wind turbines expert from DNV Kema, offered three scenarios for curtailing the turbines to produce two-thirds of the projected energy, enough to break-even.
One option is to turn the turbines off from 11 PM to 6 AM year-round, plus additional time throughout the year to eliminate shadow flicker on homes in the Craggy Ridge neighborhood of West Falmouth. Alternatively, the turbines could be on less often in the summer when winds are weaker and longer in the wintertime when winds are stronger.
A second option is to turn the turbines off year-round from 11 PM to 4 AM and during any shadow flicker periods. The turbines could also be turned off starting at 6 PM each night, but only in May through September.
In the third option, the turbines would be turned off from 11 PM to 4 AM year-round, during shadow flicker, and starting at 8 PM every night, but only during April, September, October and November. But member Anastasia K. Karplus said the numbers used for the calculations were based on conservative estimates before the turbines were installed. To truly calculate the amount of power necessary to break-even, Mr. Rogers should use the actual production numbers from the turbines as they exist now, she said. The turbines are producing more energy than initially projected, she said. Part of the cost of the turbines is paying back almost $5 million in loans used to purchase and in- stall the turbines. Group member Judith Fenwick asked if there
was any chance the state might forgive the loans. Ms. Smith said no, the money is from bonds that are sold on the open market not from state loans. “You could ask the state if they could repay it for you,” she said.
But turning the turbines off for shorter periods would not work for everyone. Todd A. Drummey said there are at least four families who are struggling with the turbines under the current plan of 12 hours off each night. Diane C. Funfar said there are many more than four families unhappy with the current curtailment plan. Kathryn L. Elder said the turbines must also comply with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection noise thresholds of 10 decibels more than the ambient sound. To comply with the DEP study, the town will probably have to turn the turbines off during daytime hours, she said.
Earlier this year, a DEP sound study concluded that Wind 1 created unacceptable sound levels at one home on Blacksmith Shop Road at night in both high and low wind speeds. But Ms. Karplus said that problems with the wind turbine sounds are not directly tied to the DEP sound standards. “It’s not the two decibels over 10 that is making everybody’s hair stand up straight,” she said. Ms. Elder said a 10-decibel increase is a lot of noise. “Plus the noise gets louder and louder the more and more wind there is,” she said.
“If none of the break-even solutions have any value for neigh- bors then why pursue them?” asked Ms. Smith. Even if the tur- bines produced more energy than estimated and could be turned off for three additional hours a night and the results were still awful,
why do it? she asked.
Kathleen R. Driscoll said the Falmouth Board of Health reported that 85 percent of the problems with turbines are sleep related, so turning off the turbines at night should help solve the majority of problems. Alden H. Cook said neighbors would like to have more information about how much it costs to turn the turbines off per hour so they could make a decision if the curtailment was worth it.
Wind speeds are generally stronger at night and during the winter months, said Massachusetts Clean Energy Center consultant Peter McPhee, so identifying an exact amount of money produced per hour is probably not possible. The group asked for more information about how much it costs to turn the turbines off from 7 PM to 7 AM each day and when wind speeds reach eight meters per second. Curtailing the wind turbines at
higher wind speeds was tried ear- lier, but was implemented poorly, Mr. Drummey said. The turbines would be turned off at high wind speeds, then turned on five minutes later. Curtailment at high wind speeds could work if turbines were turned off for longer periods, he said.
Another package the group is considering is to run the turbines as much as possible and use that revenue to appease residents who live near the turbines. Some residents want the town to purchase their homes if the turbines will not be removed, Ms. Elder said. Another option that had been considered was modifying people’s homes to reduce the noise indoors, but Ms. Elder said there is no support for that solution among the neighbors. “Mitigation of homes is not good enough,” she said. Another option is to share the revenue from the wind turbines with neighbors, but there has been little discussion about that, Ms. Elder said.
The group is also considering a third package to remove the turbines and sell them for parts, and invest in photovolatic solar power.
A fourth package is to move the turbines to the another spot in Falmouth that is more than a half-mile away from homes and run the turbines at full power, but the group is still waiting to hear back from the Federal Aviation Administration about that solution.
The group was formed in May and has met nearly every week to try to find solutions to the turbine problems. At this pace, Ms. Smith said the group is on track to conclude their meetings by December 1. Once the group concludes their meetings, she and her colleagues will write a report to selectmen outlining the recommendations, which could then be added to the April Annual Town Meeting warrant.
But selectmen Douglas H. Jones pointed out that a Town Meeting article is only necessary if the solution requires appropriating money. If the solution does not require more money, like the break-even scenarios, selectmen could approve it without consulting Town Meeting.
Linda E. Davis, an alternate member to the group, said the group should consider more creative solutions to breaking even. The turbines could be turned off during every other weekend, she said, or on Thanksgiving weekend and between Christmas and New Year’s. That would allow residents the maximum enjoyment of their homes while still producing enough power to break even, she said.
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