Wind Turbines study group completes 53-page report; Presents four options to Falmouth Board of Selectmen
FALMOUTH – After eight months of meetings at a cost of about $388,000, it came down to four recommended options with regards to Falmouth’s wind turbines, Wind 1 and Wind 2, located at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility: Full operation of the turbines, curtail the running hours (through one of two curtail options) or remove the turbines and replace them with solar panels.
Those are the recommended options that stemmed from a 53-page detailed report from the Falmouth Wind Turbines Options Analysis Process (WTOP), presented to the Falmouth Board of Selectmen on Jan. 18. The report describes the WTOP’s process and how it reached its conclusions.
For the past two and a half years, the turbines have been a source of dissention among Falmouth residents and public officials, with those living near the turbines claiming serious sleep disturbances and adverse health effects, and property owners claiming the values of their homes is depreciating. Meanwhile, town officials continue to weigh these concerns with the economic and environmental issues involved with the turbines.
The WTOP has met more than 25 times since May to explore the options for the long-term future of Falmouth’s turbines. WTOP stakeholder representatives include both town officials and residents who experienced adverse impacts from the turbines. Additionally, two Falmouth selectmen and a representative from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) attended the discussions as observers.
Here is a brief overview of each of the recommendations, as described in the WTOP’s final report to the selectmen:
One option would run the turbines at full operation. Under this option, the turbines would operate whenever wind conditions allow, without curtailment. Falmouth would purchase homes where noise levels exceed DEP guidelines and then resell the homes with a noise easement. The WTOP would recommend the town take measures to ensure that operation of the turbines complies with required DEP Noise guidelines. For homes that do not require a noise easement, the town may decide to voluntarily purchase residences according to a pre-determined set of eligibility criteria.
Falmouth may also offer some financial compensation to residents within a certain distance of the turbines to compensate them for the reductions to quality of life or potential property value losses. Residents could then apply these payments to upgrade insulation to reduce noise, install sound masking mechanisms, pay utility bills, or for any other purpose.
In addition, Falmouth might offer a Property Value Guarantee, which would determine a price reflective of the value of the property without turbines, so that homeowners forced to sell their homes below that price would be fairly compensated.
In order to implement the process, the WTOP recommends the town contract a neutral, third-party assessor to ensure fair implementation of the suggested measures. It may also develop other ways to respond to health, noise, and property value concerns.
Two options would curtail turbine running hours.
One “Break-Even” option would curtail the operating hours of the turbines so the projected revenue produced by the turbines is equal to the projected costs. Input to and from WTOP participants suggested that evening, nighttime, and early morning curtailment offered the greatest benefit to the most people, so the break-even curtailment scenario focused on that timeframe.
To move that option forward, the WTOP recommends that additional acoustical measurement be conducted between 4 p.m.- 11 p.m. and 4:30 a.m.- 9 a.m. with both turbines running, using a firm and methodology acceptable to all stakeholders. Data collected would help inform the town about compliance with DEP guidelines.
Another curtailment option would have the turbines operating from 7 p.m.- 7 a.m. The WTOP recommends that additional acoustical measurement be conducted between 4 p.m.- 7 p.m. and from 7 a.m.- 9 a.m. with both turbines running, using a firm and methodology acceptable to all stakeholders. Again, data collected would help inform the town about compliance with DEP guidelines.
Curtailment options also would require a commitment of a funding source to cover the gap between the costs and revenues for operating the turbines.
A final option would remove and re-sell the turbines; and it would develop a PV array. Either of these components could be undertaken separately, but the WTOP sees both financial and environmental benefits in combining these two components into a single approach. The option would require commitment of a funding source for the PV capital costs and/or Wind 1 debt obligations.
The WTOP report includes statements from each of its stakeholder groups:
Climate stakeholders urge the town continue running the turbines, with or without curtailment, and to determine the number of homes that would need to be purchased and other mitigations for the affected neighbors.
Fiscal stakeholders recommend the wind turbines continue to operate “for the benefit of all and incur no costs to the town, citizens, or community at large.”
The health-impacted neighbors recommend removing the turbines.
The multiple perspective stakeholders could not reach consensus in their statement.
“We have deliberated and discussed our way through more than 24 meetings over an 8 month period and still feel that the completion of our work has been rushed. We understand the need to bring closure to our part of the process. Yet, we have not concluded the process with a thorough, complete feeling,” the report said. “The overarching duel continues between the safety, health, and well being of our neighbors weighed against the quantifiable fiscal impacts for the town. What value will the Board of Selectmen assign to the health and well being of our neighbors?”
In addition to the recommended options, the WTOP explored other options that were not recommended to the selectmen. These included use of sound barriers and berms, moving the turbines, mechanical alterations to reduce noise; and legal action against engineers, contractors, and consultants.
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