After 21 meetings since the end of May, the Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process group will review a draft of its final report in the meeting on Tuesday at 6 PM in the Hermann Foundation Meeting Room at the Falmouth Public Library on Main Street. The group of 14 people includes neighbors who live near the turbines, town employees, and residents concerned with climate change, fiscal responsibility and a fair and open process. That group, along with facilitators, liaisons, alternates, and technical consultants, have met nearly every week in an attempt to find acceptable solutions to the problems with wind turbines near homes in West Falmouth.
The group has not decided on a single solution that resolved the problems with the turbines. Instead, the final report, which will be presented to the selectmen, will include two contrasting options: taking down the turbines, and purchasing and reselling homes. Also included will be the “curtailment scenarios” in which the turbines operations are altered to comply with Massachu- setts Department of Environmental Protection noise restrictions, or make enough money to cover the cost of the turbines’ operations, maintenance, and debt service.
The option of moving the turbines to another location in Falmouth has now officially been denied by the Federal Aviation Administration. In a report issued last Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration reported that if the turbines were moved to an area just south of the Massachusetts Military Reservation they would create a hazard to air navigation. The report also said that if the turbines were reduced in height to not exceed 216 feet above ground level it would not exceed obstruction standards, but that is not likely since the turbines are 262 feet high at the hub, with blades that extend to
The group has also ruled out options like making mechanical changes to the turbines, and building sound barriers around homes. Ultimately, the board of selectmen will decide what to do about the turbines, which will likely involve appropriation of money and may come down to a vote of Meeting and a ballot initiative.
The Falmouth Turbine Options Process started out slowly at the end of May with neighbors not participating in the first three meetings before eventually deciding to sit at the table. Kathryn L. Elder, a wind turbine neighbor, said if the neighbors did not participate, the process would not be valid. Although Ms. Elder went into the process with an open mind, she said, she has concluded that removing the turbines is the only acceptable option. Taking down the turbines is estimated to cost about $6.5 million. That does not include $5 million federal grant that was used to purchase Wind 2. Throughout
the process Ms. Elder and others have pushed the town to file paperwork to close out the grant, but that has not yet been completed.
If the town were to take the turbines down before the grant was closed out, it could be converted into a loan that would have to be repaid. Wastewater superintendent Gerald C. Potamis said the town would like to close out the grant, but that has not happened yet. “We haven’t closed the project out because there’s still what you call a punch list of items that the contractor has to do,” he said.
Once the project is issued a certificate of completion by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the grant will be closed out, he said. Once that happens, the options of taking down the turbines and purchasing neighbors’ homes will be comparable financially.
But, at that point, Ms. Elder said it comes down to what is right. “If they really understood the problem, I would think that, morally, the right thing to do trumps the rest of it,” she said. If selectmen decide to run the turbines, legal action is inevitable, she said. “I do think that if they continue to run them this will end up in front of a judge,” she said. “The problem is that these turbines are too big to be close to us.”
The town purchasing the neighbors’ homes is the only other possible solution, but one she does not favor because she and other neighbors do not want to be forced out of their homes. “If you’re going to solve the problem, that really is the only other option,” she said.
Curtailment scenarios are not acceptable, she said, because the turbines would have to be run almost all the time. According to financial analysis done for the group, 91 percent of the revenue generated by the uncurtailed operation of the turbines in the next five years would pay for operations, maintenance, debt service and to replenish the reserve fund for the turbines. For the five years after that, 78 percent of revenues would go toward operation, maintenance and debt.
Anastasia K. Karplus, a resident who is concerned with climate change, said being involved in the process was valuable because it allowed the group to explore all the possible options. “We left no stone unturned and we probably even dug up some stones to turn them over and try to come up with an answer of what to do,” she said. In the beginning, Ms. Karplus said she was optimistic that there was one solution that could solve the problems with the turbines, but that turned out not to be the case. “I think we found that there is not a technical fix that will satisfy the neighbors,” she said.
In the end, the differences between the turbine neighbors’ perspective and the residents concerned with climate change did not change, but there is a better understanding between the groups. “I think there is still a difference, but I think we under- stand each other better because of the process,” she said.
For Kathleen R. Driscoll, a group member concerned with town finances, curtailment options should be on the table. “I think a break-even scenario would work,” she said, because it would solve the financial issues while giving the neighbors some relief. The most positive thing about the wind turbine options process was that all the groups were able to come together and discuss the different options, she said. Even if they could not agree, they at least sat at the same table and had discussions about the problems with the turbines. If there is one thing that all the members of the group can agree on, it is that in the end not everyone will be happy. “My feeling is that a decision will be made, but that there will be a group on one side or another side of that decision that will not like it,” Ms. Driscoll said.
David A. Bailey, the town assessor, agreed. “I think everybody had hoped to come up with a whiz-bang solution that would make everybody happy,” he said. “In the end, I think whatever is decided is going to be some sort of compromise.” But that compromise is not viewed in the same way by all sides, he said. “I think one of the problems is that there are a group of affected people who feel that a compromise is sort of akin to somebody being punched in the head once every five minutes, and the compromise is to be punched in the head every 10 minutes,” he said. Because people feel so strongly about the topic, the debate will likely continue, he said. “I would hope that there will be some sort of a conclusion for this. I think it’s important for the community to move on and I hope there is a conclusion,” he said. “But I don’t see any answer that is going to make everybody happy.”