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Falmouth selectmen, finance committee stand firm on removing turbines

The Falmouth Board of Selectmen and the Falmouth Finance Committee held a joint April 4 meeting and unanimously stood by the selectmen’s prior vote to remove the town’s wind turbines, despite receiving none of their requested financial assistance from the state to do so. The latest estimate is that it will cost the town about $14 million to remove both Wind 1 and Wind 2 at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Selectmen voted to support removing the industrial-sized turbines, which have been a source of division in the community, in January. They since have tried to secure a financial commitment from state officials to help them do so, prior to drafting final language for warrant articles in the April 9 special Town Meeting.

Wind 1 was funded by a mix of general obligation bonds, grants and advanced payments on renewable energy credits (RECs), which are generated when carbon-neutral electricity is produced and then sold on the market. On April 2, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) asked its board of directors to authorize the board chairman to appoint a subcommittee that will potentially modify the existing REC purchase agreement with Falmouth. However, the MassCEC staff memorandum that makes this request also states that Falmouth will not receive a contract waiver if Wind 1 is decommissioned and removed.

Wind 2 was funded entirely by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 through the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund grant/ loan program. Town Manager Julian Suso stated April 4 that he received electronic communication from Susan Perez, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust (MWPAT), which is the state’s “pass-through” agency for the federal stimulus funds. Perez stated the MWPAT is requiring the town enter into an agreement to operate Wind 2 at a level that qualifies as an ‘energy efficient’ project, or it will reinstate the town’s obligation to pay principle and interest on the loan and “take such other actions as it deems necessary and appropriate.”

Selectmen Chairman Kevin Murphy said he believes the state is being punitive. “I think it’s fair to say that the state does not want to see what the Board of Selectmen wanted to see happen,” Murphy said.

Despite this, the selectmen and Finance Committee stood firm and united in requesting an indefinite postponement of Article 21 and supporting Articles 22 and 23 at special Town Meeting.

Article 21 was postponed because its content is now addressed in the proposed Article 22, as an attempt to vote on everything together at the special Town Meeting. “I took considerable effort with Town Counsel to develop a recommendation on one article so the town can take one vote and one motion to represent the town’s goals,” said Heather Harper, Falmouth’s assistant town manager on April 4.

Article 22 will require a 2/3 majority of Town Meeting voters for Falmouth to borrow money to pay for costs related to dismantling and decommissioning the wind turbines. Special legislation is also required to both remove an asset like the wind turbines, and to potentially resell the turbines to a non-government entity. The total estimated obligation to remove Wind 1 and Wind 2 is now listed as about $14 million in this warrant article.

Article 23 will not require a 2/3 majority vote, since it does not borrow money. Instead, this article would transfer $140,000 from the town’s free cash fund to supplement the FY 13 and FY 14 operating budgets necessitated by the curtailment or shutdown of both turbines.

Murphy said he is resolute that the issue be brought to voters. “Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. We have a lot of things facing this community in dollars and cents. But it’s important we gain the trust of the entire community,” he said.

More details to come in the April 11 issue of The Bulletin.