The Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process group postponed its scheduled meeting with the Falmouth Board of Selectmen tonight after last-minute changes to the group’s final report. Facilitator Stacie N. Smith wrote in an e-mail that the meeting was postponed because the group needs another meeting to review, vet and finalize the report after members raised questions about it. The report was to be sent to selectmen last Friday, but has not been released publicly. The meeting with selectmen has not been rescheduled.
The report will give selectmen three options for handling problems with the two town-owned wind turbines at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment plant: run the turbines as much as possible and compensate homeowners in the area; curtail the operations of the wind turbines; or remove the turbines and possibly install photovoltaic solar panels to produce renewable energy for the town. The report includes financial projections for different turbine operation scenarios, Ms. Smith wrote, such as running the turbines as much as possible and curtailing the turbines so they make enough money to cover the operational costs. The projections are based on the average annual production and those numbers change every time the average annual production is recalculated.
The group agreed last Tuesday on how to calculate the average production, Ms. Smith wrote, but they had not all had a chance to see the projected financial implications of those calculations until Thursday.
Group member Judith Fenwick said the numbers are a “moving target” and different group members with different interests challenge the calculations in the report, which leads to more discussions and more calculations. The group has met 24 times since May attempting to find workable solutions to the problems with the town-owned wind turbines sited close to neighbors’ homes, and tonight was expected to be the final meeting.
Ms. Fenwick said group members may also react to the news that selectmen have moved to create a zoning freeze around the wind turbines. Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy Jr. said Friday that filing a perimeter plan of the wastewater treatment plant gives selectmen an option to keep the turbines standing if a Barnstable Superior Court judge rules the town should have filed for a special permit. The zoning freeze puts the turbines under the current zoning rules, which are more permissive than the wind turbine bylaw proposed by the Falmouth Planning Board.
But if selectmen are only interested in protecting the investment in the wind turbines, Ms. Fenwick said, “it calls into question why have we been meeting all this time.”
Selectman David Braga said he was the lone member of the board to vote against the zoning freeze in executive session on December 3. “I think it was the wrong thing to do,” he said, although he supports the rest of the board’s decision. “I thought that what the board was really trying to do was protect the interests of the town, but I also felt that there would be serious ramifications upon its filing,” he said. The news that the town created a zoning freeze around the turbines may have eroded any trust built up between the turbine options group and selectmen, he said.
Mr. Braga said he thinks that the town should remove the wind turbines, an option that will cost between $8.9 and $9.3 million, according to the draft of the final report reviewed by the group last week. “We’re pouring money into them,” he said, referring to costs associated with maintenance, repair and debt service of the turbines. “What a disaster.”