Falmouth Board of Selectmen’s decision last week to remove the two town-owned wind turbines at the wastewater treatment facility could have implications not only for Falmouth, but for wind projects across the state and the country, according to both proponents and opponents of the project.
If the turbines are removed it would represent a setback for wind energy in Falmouth, said Megan C. Amsler of the Falmouth Energy Committee, who worked to bring the town-owned wind turbines to Falmouth over several years, and could also impact the wind industry as a whole.
“I believe that this has ramifications that will ripple through the entire wind industry,” Ms. Amsler said.
Ms. Amsler was a participant in the Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process that offered three options to selectmen, which were to run the turbines and compensate homeowners, curtail the turbines, or remove the turbines and perhaps install photovoltaic solar panels.
She said selectmen should have offered all three options to Falmouth Town Meeting and voters.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Ms. Amsler said. “The town taxpayers should have all the options in front of them.”
J. Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive, West Falmouth, a vocal opponent of the turbines, said removal of the two turbines will set an example for other towns in Massachusetts dealing with similar issues of noise complaints and sleep disturbance among neighbors.
Setting A Precedent
“It’s going to be precedent-setting,” he said. “Whatever happens in Falmouth is going to be looked at in Fairhaven, Scituate, Kingston and Plymouth. Citizens from towns such as those are going to be looking to Falmouth to see what happens.” Those towns have commercial-sized turbines and have logged complaints similar to Falmouth, he said.
Mr. Donald said the experience with the Falmouth turbines has given the wind industry a bad reputation. For that reason, the wind industry would like to see the Falmouth turbines taken down to make siting more turbines elsewhere easier, Mr. Donald said.
“The Falmouth experience is known worldwide and it’s unfortunate for the wind turbine industry, but Falmouth has become a martyr. It’s an embarrassment to the industry,” Mr. Donald said.
For now, the Falmouth turbines are still turning, and it will likely take a vote of Town Meeting and voters to authorize the town to borrow enough money to remove them.
The Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process reported that removing the turbines would cost the town $9 to $9.4 million. Last week, Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper told selectmen that number could be as high as $11.9 million. Town Manager Julian M. Suso said yesterday that there are many unknowns about the process of removing turbines. “Some work lies ahead to be certain what costs are appropriately in that figure,” he said.
Falmouth is seeking help from the state to relieve some of the financial burden of removing the turbines. Last week, Mr. Suso sent a letter to Massachusetts Clean Energy Center Chief Executive Officer Alicia Barton McDevitt, asking for relief from some of the money owed on the town-owned turbines. He asked the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to consider relieving the town of any obligation to repay the $1 million in renewable energy credits that will not be produced if the turbines are removed.
At the same time Falmouth is reaching out to state representatives for help paying the debt associated with the turbines. “The board has directed that we contact other appropriate state officials regarding further assistance to the Town in regard to the very significant financial obligation related to this removal and dismantling,” Mr. Suso wrote in a letter to the Clean Energy Center.
Residents Reach Out To State
Mr. Donald and John J. Ford of Blacksmith Shop Road were scheduled to meet with Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard K. Sullivan Jr. yesterday morning to discuss the situation in Falmouth.
Krista Selmi, a spokesman for Energy and Environmental Affairs, said the meeting was a follow-up to a meeting Mr. Donald had with Mr. Sullivan and Governor Deval L. Patrick in December. Mr. Sullivan is looking forward to discussing the future of the town-owned turbines with town officials, Ms. Selmi said.
If Falmouth voters agree to remove the turbines, it could be the first case anywhere in the country of commercial-sized turbines coming down within three years of being installed because of noise and health complaints of residents.
Matt Kakley, spokesman for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said the organization looks forward to working with town officials and residents to resolve complaints about the wind turbines. Mr. Kakley said the only case in Massachusetts of a wind turbine being removed because of sound problems happened almost 15 years ago when a 10-kilowatt turbine at Halibut State Point Park in Rockport was relocated to Beverly High School because of noise complaints. That turbine is a much smaller model than the two 1.65-megawatt Vestas V82 turbines at the wastewater treatment plant that stand 252 feet tall at the hub.
MassCEC does not log complaints about wind projects, Mr. Kakley said, although it is currently funding an acoustic study for the Town of Kingston because of noise complaints about the turbines. “In addition to helping Kingston, MassCEC is working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to develop and conduct a Research Study on Wind Turbine Acoustics,” he wrote in a statement. “That study will measure the level and quality of sound emissions from a variety of operating wind turbines in Massachusetts, and help provide information to the public and municipal decision-makers about specific acoustic characteristics of wind turbines.”
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the national trade association for America’s wind industry, there are 45,100 wind turbines in the United States with a capacity of 60,007 megawatts. Texas, California, and Iowa are the three largest producers of wind energy in the United States. Texas has over 12,000 megawatts, and California and Iowa each have more than 5,000 megawatts of wind capacity installed. Massachusetts has 100 megawatts of wind energy capacity installed and is 35th in the nation in producing wind energy.
Wind energy is growing rapidly nationwide, according to statistics provided by AWEA. Wind energy became the number one source of new electricity generating capacity for the first time in 2012, providing some 42 percent of all new generating capacity.
Today, United States wind power capacity represents more than 20 percent of the world’s installed wind power, according to AWEA.
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