The state is waiting until the last minute to provide town officials with an answer on whether Falmouth can expect financial assistance if it moves forward with dismantling the wind turbines at the Wastewater Treatment Facility on Blacksmith Shop Road.
Town Meeting will make the decision on whether to take down the machines as part of three articles selectmen submitted onto the Special Town Meeting warrant, which will be debated on Tuesday, April 9. A week prior to that the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s board of directors will meet to discuss what support, if any, the state will provide to Falmouth. “That doesn’t give the board a lot of time,” Chairman of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen Kevin E. Murphy said at last night’s board meeting in discussing the issue.
Though there is an urgency on the part of the board and Town Manager Julian M. Suso to meet deadlines related to Town Meeting, Mr. Murphy said there does not appear to be that same attitude among state officials. “Apparently the state doesn’t have that same urgency,” he said, noting that a meeting of the Clean Energy Center’s board of directors to discuss the Falmouth turbines was supposed to occur in March, but it is not being held.
With a lack of information from the state, the board had to vote a recommendation of indefinite postponement last night on Articles 21 and 22 on the Special Town Meeting warrant though it is expected to change those to positive motions on Town Meeting floor. Article 21 asks to fund money to pay for the existing debt obligations for constructing, repairing and maintaining Wind 1 and Wind 2. Article 22 asks to appropriate money to fund the cost of dismantling and disposing both turbines.
The board did vote to recommend Article 23, which would appropriate $140,000 from free cash to supplement the operating budget for this fiscal year and next fiscal year to offset the curtailment or shutdown of both Wind 1 and Wind 2.
Because of the importance of these articles, Mr. Murphy said it would be good to get any information it can to Town Meeting members beforehand. That means selectmen will meet on Thursday, April 4, to provide the press with details on the financial assistance the state is planning to give Falmouth to dismantle the wind turbines and the actual wording on the positive motions they will give for Articles 21 and 22.
Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper gave the board some guidance on a potential range of costs Falmouth taxpayers could expect to pay, a follow-up on priliminary costs she provided to selectmen at the end of January when it first voted to dismantle the turbines.
Without any state support, she said, the town could pay any- where from $12.25 million to $15.23 million to take down both turbines. That amount includes $5.71 million to pay the debt on Wind 1; $4.86 million to $5.88 million to pay the debt on Wind 2; and $1.54 million to $3.4 million to shut down and remove the turbines and restore the Wastewater Treatment Facility site to its previous condition.
Under such a scenario, Ms. Harper said, taxpayers owning a home valued at an average of $471,000 would have to pay an estimated $48 in additional taxes the first year with that declining to $19.19 in 2033 to cover these costs. The total cost for that homeowner over the life of the project would be $742. These amounts could be reduced, Ms. Harper said, if Falmouth is not obligated to pay back the stimulus grant it received from the federal government through the state on Wind 2. That would reduce the town’s cost by anywhere from $4.86 million to $5.88 million. And if the Clean Energy Center absolves the town of its obligation to repay the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) it pre-paid for, that cost could be reduced by anywhere from roughly $1 million to $2 million.
With these reductions, Ms. Harper said an owner of a home valued at $471,000 would pay an estimated $25.50 in additional taxes the first year. Over the life of the project, that homeowner would pay $344.64. Taking the potential reductions into account, Selectman Brent V.W. Putnam said the actual range Falmouth will have to pay to remove the turbines will be anywhere from $6 million to $15.2 million. Mr. Suso said, is that if town officials are successful at persuading both Town Meeting in April and voters in May to dismantle the turbines, Falmouth would be required to submit special legislation that would authorize the borrowing of money to decommission the wind turbines. He explained that the state only allows municipalities to borrow money to build, add or obtain assets, not remove them.
Mr. Suso stressed that what the town is attempting to do is “really extraordinary” and represents a project for which there is no precedent to help guide him, his staff or the state. “This is a work in progress,” Mr. Murphy added. “We need to make folks fully aware that we are work- ing as hard and as diligently as possible.” To that end, he said, the board is attempting to gather as much information as it can so Town Meeting members will be prepared to make a decision on the issue next month. “The last thing we want to do is move forward with something and have it be incomplete,” he said.
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