Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process group presented its final report to the board of selectmen on Friday night at the main branch of the Falmouth Public Library. It was the first time the group met face-to-face with selectmen to discuss the report compiled after eight months of meetings.
Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Kevin E. Murphy opened the meeting by thanking the group members for their time, effort and civility toward each other throughout the process. However, later in the meeting, he told the group that it left his board with little time to make a decision. “You’ve given us an entire window of two weeks,” said Mr. Murphy.
Tomorrow, selectmen will continue the wind turbine process by holding a meeting to accept public comment. It is scheduled to begin at 6:30 PM in town hall. Selectmen will need to reach a decision by February 4 if it will need funding, which will require there be an article on the April Special Town Meeting warrant.
On Friday, the five selectmen and 18 members of the turbine group were seated behind tables on opposite sides of the room. They remained quiet as facilitator Stacie N. Smith of the Consensus Building Institute distilled the group’s report into a presentation that lasted about an hour. Another 20 people watched from the audience, but no public comment was accepted. The group has come up with three feasible options to solve the problems with the turbines sited near homes, Ms. Smith said. One is to run the two town-owned wind turbines at the water treatment plant as much as possible and purchase homes in the area or pay homeowners for noise easements. That would produce about 38,551 megawatt hours of energy and bring in between $1.3 million and $1.9 million in revenue over the next five years. Over the next 18 years, the turbines are projected to make 135,486 megawatts of energy and bring in between $7.7 million and $8.4 million. The range in costs depends on whether the town returns money into a $1 million stabilization fund that has been depleted because of decreased production. The option would also require the purchase of homes or noise easements, and those costs are not included in the estimate. “Unfortunately, the group cannot give you a very good estimate of what those costs would be,” Ms. Smith said.
Group member J. Malcolm Donald said a consultant for the group estimated 20 to 40 homes would likely have to be purchased. That number is an estimate that the group did not agree on and is not included in the report.
Another option is to curtail operation of the turbines at night and to avoid shadow flicker on homes. In two different scenarios, curtailment would provide enough energy to pay for the cost of the turbines, or be turned off for 12 hours every night. To break even, the turbines would be turned off at some range of 10:30 PM to 7 AM, plus additional time to prevent shadow flicker on homes. Over the next five years, the turbines would produce about 26,055 megawatt hours of electricity. Over the next 18 years, the turbines would produce 91,570 megawatt hours. “This is the only option that does not require additional funds,” Ms. Smith said. But that option was not acceptable to neighbors because it does not allow them to get a full night’s sleep.
A second version of this option is to turn off the turbines for 12 hours every day, which would be expected to produce 19,285 megawatt hours and cost between $672,000 and $1.3 million. Over the next 18 years, the turbines would produce 67,775 megawatt hours of electricity and cost the town between $1.8 million and $2.4 million.
A third option is to remove the turbines and perhaps replace them with photovoltaic solar panels to produce renewable energy. Removing the turbines alone would cost an estimated $9 million to $9.4 million over the next 18 years, and no renewable energy would be produced.
Removing the turbines, combined with purchasing a two-megawatt solar display, would cost the town about $1.6 million over the first five years and $4.6 million over the 25 year life of the project. Selectman Douglas H. Jones said that the $9 million cost over the next 18 years would be about $500,000 a year.
The benefit of installing solar panels is that the solar renew- able energy credits (RECs) are worth more than renewable energy credits for wind power. “Solar RECs are selling for a lot more than wind RECs, but you’ve got to act fast,” Ms. Smith said. Mr. Jones raised the idea of combining options, such as solar energy and curtailing the wind turbines. “That may be where the board needs to go,” he said.
Selectman David Braga asked about possible funding sources, other than town funds, such as assistance from the state. Massachusetts Clean Energy Center paid for the wind turbine options process at a cost of $388,000, and there is a possibility that the state will help pay for a wind turbine solution. “We cannot assume we will get money from the state,” Mr. Murphy said.
Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn said if they go to the state they will have to have a specific proposal. “We’re not there yet,” Mr. Murphy said. Mr. Donald said the state has deep pools of money and could pay for a solution. Mr. Murphy said it would be a mistake to rely on the state and delay moving forward with a decision on the turbines for another year. He also said it is difficult to please everyone with a solution, and asked if the group thought that a compromise was possible. Ms. Smith said the group did not agree on any solution, and decided not to advocate for different positions with selectmen.
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