Falmouth Wind Turbine Options group agreed Wednesday that it will not recommend moving the town-owned wind turbines at the wastewater treatment plant to another site in Falmouth.
Group members said moving the turbines would be too costly, take too long, and has not been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. The estimated cost of moving the turbines is $4.5 million, the process would take two to three years, and FAA approval is unlikely because the turbines could interfere with existing flight paths, the group said.
David A. Bailey said the money spent moving the turbines, combined with the unknown costs of mitigating neighbors’ complaints in the meantime, could be used more effectively in other ways. “We’re better off putting the money towards different options,” he said. There is one site in Falmouth where the turbines could be moved that is at least a half-mile away from all the homes in Falmouth, but the site is within 2,000 feet of housing on the base, which could present more problems.
Alden H. Cook said moving the turbines will not be popular at the proposed site. “Do you think that the people who are going to get these things are going to say, ‘Hurray, the turbines are coming to our neighborhood?’ I don’t think so,” he said.
Facilitator Stacie N. Smith of the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge said the group would also need to confirm that the residents of base housing could move if they were unhappy with the turbines.
Kathryn L. Elder said moving the turbines is not worth the high cost. The same amount of money could be used to take the turbines down and invest in solar panels, she said. But other group members asked not to rule out the option entirely. Joseph L. Hackler said moving the turbines still could be a viable option if the FAA approves the flight path.
Massachusetts Clean Energy Center applied for FAA approval to move the turbines to the proposed site, but has not received a response. “The FAA is a deal killer before it even starts,” said Mr. Bailey.
Group members said they will not dismiss the option entirely, instead they decided “not to recommend the option at this time.” If something changes the group would revisit moving the turbines, Ms. Smith said.
Next week, Ms. Smith will make a presentation to Falmouth Town Meeting about the Wind Turbine Options Process. Group members raised concerns about how that presentation might impact Article 3, which would restrict the size of future wind turbines in Falmouth. As written, the bylaw would not allow the erection of a turbine in excess of 250 kilowatts. The two town turbines are 1.65 megawatts and therefore could not be relocated elsewhere in Falmouth under the new bylaw.
Last month, chairman of the board of selectmen Kevin E. Murphy said his board would not support the article without an exemption that would allow the town to relocate its two turbines. The planning board decided on Monday not to amend the article to give the town such an exemption.
The implications of their recommendations were on the minds of some group members. Todd A. Drummey said there are a lot of questions going around about how the group’s recommendations relate to the town bylaw. “If people vote in favor of the bylaw, then that dismisses moving the turbines,” said Karen M. Cardeira. But other group members said the bylaw could be amended at a future town meeting, if the decision is made to move the turbines.
With moving the turbines now off the table, at least for now, the group is down to two sets of options: curtailing the operations of the turbines to meet some balance with the neighbors’ concerns or removing the turbines, selling them for parts and possibly purchasing photovoltaic solar panels to replace them. The first option could involve the town purchasing some neighbors’ homes and reselling them with a noise easement so the turbines can run more often.
Last week, the group sent out a survey to more than 200 residents who live within a half-mile of the turbines or have filed complaints in the past. Of the 50 people who have responded to the survey so far, 15 have said they would like to sell their homes to the town. Of those, Ms. Smith said, 10 had concerns about health effects from the turbines and the rest were concerned about lowered property values or were just interested in selling their homes. Twelve people said they do not experience any impacts and mitigation is not necessary. Six people said they would like the town to pay their electric bills. Curtailing the turbines so that they produce enough power to at least break even while mitigating some of the negative effects for neighbors could prove difficult.
Consultants compared the projected output of the turbines to the expenses and found that most curtailment scenarios would not produce enough power to break even. According to Tony Rogers, a consultant from DNV Kema, the only scenario that creates enough revenue to pay for the turbines’ costs over the next 20 years and to replenish a reserve account is running one turbine 24 hours a day and turning the other turbine off from 11:30 PM to 4 AM year-round. Turning off both turbines for those hours would create enough revenue to cover the costs of the turbines, but not to replenish the reserve account.
Mr. Drummey said he was shocked by that information. “We bought one turbine and the other was a grant and we are barely breaking even,” he said. “If we only put one up it would barely be paying for itself.”
Removing the turbines and selling them for parts would also result in financial losses for the town. The turbines are worth between $200,000 and $600,000 on the open market, said Nils Bolgen of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The town would still have to pay about $7.5 million to repay the debts associated with the turbines. On top of that would be the cost of purchasing and installing new photovoltaic solar panels to run the wastewater treatment plant. Alternatively the town could pay for the $120,000 in electrical bills for the wastewater treatment plant every year.
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