The amount of state money available to help Falmouth remove two wind turbines will likely remain unknown until days before the matter comes up at town meeting.
“The state doesn’t have the same sense of urgency that we have,” Selectman Kevin Murphy, chairman of the board, said in an interview Tuesday.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which played a key role in siting the two 1.65-megawatt turbines at the town wastewater treatment facility, will not hold a board meeting again until April 2 – a week before town meeting, Murphy said. In 2010, the center prepaid Falmouth about $1 million for renewable energy credits, with the expectation that the turbines produce an equal amount of clean energy. The town has requested relief from that contractual obligation.
Falmouth’s request for financial assistance will be on the agenda for that meeting, a spokeswoman for the center said.
Falmouth is facing an estimated cost of $15.2 million to decommission and take down the turbines, preliminary projections from the town show. Town meeting is scheduled on April 9 to vote on articles to remove the “Wind 1” and “Wind 2” turbines.
In addition to the center’s funds, town officials are unsure whether Falmouth will have to pay back nearly $5 million in federal stimulus funds that the town received in 2010 to construct the Wind 2 turbine.
When taking into account the debt amassed by the two turbines, the cost of shutting down and removing them and service contracts, Town Manager Julian Suso calculated the cost to be between about $12.3 million and $15.2 million.
Suso’s projection estimated that Falmouth residents who owned houses valued at $471,000 would pay an extra $48 per year in taxes if the turbines were removed with no state aid. Over time, those individuals would pay a total of $742.08, according to the projection.
Selectmen last month threw their support behind tearing down the turbines after about three years of complaints from neighbors that the machines adversely affected their health, causing headaches, tinnitus and a host of other issues.
But at a meeting Monday night, selectmen voted to indefinitely postpone two warrant articles that would recommend the decommissioning of the turbines and fund the dismantling process. They recommended an article that would pay the cost of operating the turbines for the rest of the fiscal year.
The board held off on endorsing the measures because the specific price tag on the project remains unclear, Murphy said. They will make their decision whether to recommend the articles on the town meeting floor.
“It’s a very complex issue,” Murphy said.
Further complicating the process was Suso’s news Monday night that the town would have to seek special legislation to receive bonds to partially fund the dismantling process.
Under state law, municipalities may seek bonds only for specific purposes, and removing a turbine is not on that list. Bonds must also be tied to assets, not necessarily the removal of assets.
Falmouth is just beginning to seek special legislation, since the town only recently became aware of that latest speed bump, Suso said.
With all the uncertainties surrounding the possible removal of the turbines and less than four weeks until the scheduled town meeting vote, Selectman Brent Putnam remains optimistic that enough information will be available to make an informed decision.
“We’re going to be getting answers right before town meeting,” Putnam said. “If (state officials) don’t have all the answers, we’ll be going into town meeting with less than all the answers.”
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