The Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process group is scheduled to present its final report tonight at 6:30 to the selectmen in the Hermann Foundation Meeting Room at the Falmouth Public Library on Main Street.
The unusual Friday night meeting was scheduled in an attempt to meet a February 4 deadline for the April Special Town Meeting warrant. A joint meeting between the group and selectmen was canceled on Tuesday night because of problems calculating the future energy production of the wind turbines.
After the group finalized the report Tuesday, it was to be released this morning. That gives selectmen only a few hours to read the analysis of options to solve the problems with the town-owned wind turbines at the wastewater treatment plant sited near homes. Selectmen are expected to ask questions of the group tonight, but there will be no public comment. A special meeting will be held next Thursday for selectmen to hear from the public about the report.
After the group held more than 10 hours of meetings in the past week and read through dozens of pages of reports, members veered between exhaustion, frustration and relief at their final meeting Tuesday. Pressure has mounted for months for the wind turbine group to finish its report in preparation for annual Town Meeting in April. After missing a deadline for Town Meeting in November, the group pushed to complete the report by December, but that was delayed by a series of disagreements and questions from group members.
The final report details three options for solving the problems with the turbines. Option one would run the turbines as often as possible and compensate homeowners in the area. Option two would curtail the turbines at certain hours of the day or night. Option three would involve taking down the turbines and perhaps, purchasing photo-voltaic solar panels to replace the renewable energy production from the turbines.
All of the options have costs associated with them, but group members could not agree on some basic facts for the report, such as how many neighbors might have to be compensated for their homes. Consultant Tony Roberts from DNV Kema, an expert in wind turbine technology, estimated that 20 to 40 homes would have to be studied to see if the homeowners should be compensated. But group member Robert Shea said he would not agree to that range because the calculations were based on faulty data and that information was never presented to the group. “I’m not moving on this,” Mr. Shea said. Other group members tried to persuade him to accept at the very least a minimum number of homes affected, but Mr. Shea did not acquiesce and the final report does not include a range of homes. The report does state that the average assessed value of homes within a half-mile of the turbines is $433,600, and the average assessed value of homes owned by the 34 families that filed complaints about the town turbines is $414,000.
Running the turbines as often as possible would create a surplus between $7.7 million and $8.4 million over the next 18 years, according to the report. That does not include the cost to purchase the homes or pay residents for noise easements at their homes. Curtailing the wind turbines to break even would mean for the next five years the turbines would be off between 11 PM and 4:30 AM, under one scenario, and between 10:30 PM and 7 AM in another, depending on whether a reserve account would have to be replenished from the wind turbine revenue. Then, over the following five years, the turbines would be turned off from 11 PM to 7 AM. In either scenario the turbines would also be off during some early morning hours to prevent shadow flicker.
Curtailing the turbines to break even, or to match the current operations of 12 hours on and 12 hours off, will not satisfy most of the neighbors who complained about sleep deprivation and fatigue as a result of the turbines, according to the report.
In an informal survey of residents, the turbine group found that most neighbors would still want to sell their homes even if the turbines were running 12 hours day. The 12-hour curtailment option would also result in a loss of between $1.8 million and $2.4 million.
Taking down the turbines is estimated to cost between $9 million and $9.4 million, according to the report. That range includes paying off the debt on Wind 1, a refund to Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and the future energy costs of the wastewater treatment plant. It also includes the resale values of the turbines which are estimated to be between $200,000 and $600,000. Purchasing photovoltaic solar panels to replace some of the lost energy from the wind turbines would cost $4.6 million over the next 25 years, according to the report.
With the report finished, the group was left to tackle another problem, which was when to schedule the meeting with selectmen. Meeting on Friday evening would only give selectmen a little time to review the report, but Monday is a National Holiday and facilitator Stacie N. Smith would be unavailable to attend a meeting on that day, and meeting any time after that would reduce the amount of time for public comment and miss the town meeting deadline.
Some group members were reluctant to hold the meeting on Friday. “This should not be compressed and rushed to judgment,” said group member Judith Fenwick. “It should be well thought out.” But Anastasia K. Karplus said a meeting between the group and selectmen on Monday without Ms. Smith would be a big mistake. “I think you all could do it with- out me,” Ms. Smith said. Another facilitator from the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge might be available, she said. Some group members questioned why they needed to present the report to selectmen. Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper said the presentation was necessary for selectmen but also the general public who are not familiar with many of the concepts and scenarios the group considered.
The lengthy discussion was enough to frustrate some of the 17 people who attended the meeting. One man, who walked out after about 45 minutes, said the meeting was a waste of time. Group members voiced their own frustrations over the length of the meeting and the process in general. “I want to get this over with,” said group member Todd A. Drummey. After over an hour of discussion, the group decided that the meeting with selectmen should take place Friday evening. Selectman Douglas H. Jones, a liaison to the group, said after they receive the final report, selectmen will seek public comment and then make a recommendation to Town Meeting by February 4.
Town Meeting will likely need to vote on the solution since it will require a financial package. If that solution involves raising taxes it will go before the voters as a ballot question in May. There is a chance that the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will help pay for the solution. Last month, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard K. Sullivan Jr. told the Enterprise that the state wanted to make the turbine situation right, and “would not walk away from the Town of Falmouth.” Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which is under the direction of Mr. Sullivan, already committed $388,000 to hire consultants and facilitators for the Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process.
Any option that involves running the turbines will also require more sound testing. Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has offered to pay for the additional testing as well. But the methods used for testing, and the number of houses affected by the turbines are unlikely to be viewed the same way from all sides. Neighbors believe that Massachusetts Department of Environ- mental Protection sound limits are inadequate and do not take into account the unusual characteristics of the wind turbine noise.
Proponents of the wind turbines believe that the sound measurements taken by Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that showed the turbines exceeded noise limits were done incorrectly.
“The only problem I have with the testing is that if they don’t get the results they want, they have problems with the test,” said Mr. Shea.
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