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In Falmouth, WindWise finds hope

Fairhaven officials and critics of the town’s two turbines will be watching closely as Falmouth selectmen begin the process of removing two turbines there.

Kenneth Pottel, a member of Fairhaven’s chapter of WindWise, which advocates “responsible siting of industrial wind turbines,” said “emails were flying” on the group’s 100-person email list Thursday morning when members learned of the Falmouth decision.

“There’s a lot of energy and optimism about if this can transfer here,” Pottel said.

WindWise has repeatedly raised concerns about the health impacts of the Fairhaven turbines and the town’s response to the group’s complaints.

Peter DeTerra, chairman of Fairhaven’s Board of Health, said Thursday he could not comment on the Falmouth decision “without more information.”

“I’ll do research and look into it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Catherine Williams, spokesman for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), said Thursday it was too early to discuss “the impact of this particular decision” on other towns with wind turbines.

“Our organization’s role is to support communities in assessing the benefits of renewable energy,” Williams said. “We believe very much in responsibly sited renewable energy, but it is not for every site, every community or every application.”

Falmouth selectmen voted Wednesday night to begin the process of removing that town’s two town-owned wind turbines.

The turbines at Falmouth and Fairhaven do share some similar qualities. All four are the same size and are located at the town’s respective waste-water treatment plants. They are also similar distances from the nearest residences, but they use different technologies.

Perhaps most importantly when it comes to potentially dismantling the machines, while Falmouth owns its turbines, Fairhaven instead leases the land to the turbines’ developer with the promise to purchase energy the turbines produce.

For his part, Pottel maintained that the biggest difference between the two towns has been officials’ reactions to residents’ concerns.

“I think it shows how victims, when their voices are heard by a public body, can make a difference,” he said.

The Falmouth vote included three motions, the first of which was to craft “one or more articles” to remove the turbines that will be presented to a special Town Meeting on April 9, Town Manager Julian Suso said.

Another motion asked the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to forgive the $1 million the center paid Falmouth for advance renewable energy credits. The selectmen also voted to schedule meetings with “the appropriate state officials” to discuss additional financial assistance that could be given to the town “given the direction we’re going in,” Suso said.

Early estimates put the cost of removing the turbines “in the range of $10 million,” Suso said.

Representatives for state Departments of Health, Environmental Protection, and Energy and Environmental Affairs declined to comment on the vote and referred all questions to MassCEC.

Williams said MassCEC has been in close contact with Falmouth officials since the DEP found one of the town’s turbines in violation of state noise regulations in May.

The organization has also helped Falmouth’s Wind Turbine Options Committee compile its report to the selectmen outlining different options the town had to compensate for health problems residents attributed to the turbines.

Williams said it was “too early to weigh in on Falmouth’s financial risk” but that MassCEC will “continue to talk to the town about all the options on the table.”

Both the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Health in Fairhaven have denied WindWise’s requests for a public hearing for WindWise members to air their complaints.

“A lot of people here are discouraged because the town won’t listen,” Pottel said.