Linda Davis supported building and paying for two town-owned wind turbines when the project came before voters at town meetings between 2007 and 2009.
But as the complaints from neighbors living near the turbines grew since the first one started spinning in 2010, Davis had second thoughts and began poring over her notes and reviewing videos of those meetings.
“Clearly, very few people asked questions, and everyone was on board,” Davis said. “It became clear this year to me and to other people who were sort of on the sidelines watching “» we really had a problem here, and it was tearing our community apart.”
Davis now heads the Committee to Vote Yes on 2, a group formed last month with the purpose of encouraging Falmouth voters to support removing the two 1.65-megawatt turbines at the town’s wastewater treatment facility on Blacksmith Shop Road.
After three years of bitter controversy, voters will decide the fate of the Wind 1 and Wind 2 turbines during the town election on Tuesday.
Ballot Question 2 asks voters to approve a debt exclusion to fund the decommissioning, dismantling and removal of the turbines and to repay grants, prepaid renewable energy credits and other costs associated with removal.
If voters say yes, any debt incurred to remove the turbines would be exempt from the limits of Proposition 2½, which caps property tax increases at 2.5 percent.
The question does not specify the cost of removal.
Selectmen placed the question on the ballot last month, days after town meeting narrowly defeated a selectmen-sponsored warrant article that would have authorized the town to borrow $8.2 million toward the estimated $14 million cost of removing the turbines. Town meeting later favored, by a margin of 19 votes, appropriating $100,000 to research the exact cost of taking them down.
Some residents who live near the turbines say they cause headaches, vertigo and other health problems.
Unlike other options for mitigating health concerns of the turbines’ abutters, removing the turbines has a specific worst-case-scenario price tag, said Kevin Murphy, chairman of the selectmen.
“If the town votes no, there are other options, but all those options cost money,” Murphy said. “All of the other options have no certainty of what the maximum amount could be.”
Town Manager Julian Suso estimated the maximum cost of removing the turbines at $14 million based on the cost to decommission and remove them, as well as pay back about $6 million in debt incurred constructing the turbines – about $1 million to repay prepaid renewable energy credits, and nearly $5 million to pay back stimulus grants appropriated for the project.
Murphy takes issue with an advertisement by the Vote No on Question 2 committee, which formed late last month to encourage voters to defeat Question 2. Murphy said the group’s claim that removing the turbines could cost the town up to $25 million is “very misleading and approaching untruth.”
Vote No on Question 2’s figure includes lost revenue, which is calculated using the amount of electricity the turbines could produce if run without restrictions, Murphy said. But the town cannot keep the turbines running 12 hours a day because the state Department of Environmental Protection determined the turbines exceeded the nighttime noise threshold.
But Kathy Driscoll, the committee’s treasurer, defended the $25 million figure. The town’s $14 million estimate does not include lost revenue or the electricity bills Falmouth would have to pay to run the wastewater treatment plant, which operates on power generated by the turbines. Suso confirmed this.
Driscoll also pointed out that last year selectmen voted to shut off the turbines between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. in a deal with turbine neighbors about a week before the DEP reported Wind 1 exceeded the noise threshold at one location.
DEP officials never issued a violation and found Wind 2 never exceeded the noise threshold, so both can legally operate 24 hours a day. Suso confirmed Driscoll’s assertion.
Since registering with the town clerk’s office, the Vote No on Question 2 committee has raised nearly $3,000 from individual donors, put up campaign signs and distributed fact sheets about the vote, Driscoll said.
The turbines were erected with the help of state guidelines, Driscoll said. No one took issue with their siting during any of the seven turbine-related votes town meeting took spanning more than two years, and it’s important for local governments to support renewable energy, she said.
“I think the town did things very logically and very prudently in terms of setbacks,” said Driscoll, who began her career in the petroleum industry but now works in the renewable energy industry. “I believe that we need to make changes in how we consume energy, and starting at the local level is vital.
But Davis, who heads the Committee to Vote Yes on 2, began supporting the movement to take down the turbines after spending time with some aggrieved turbine abutters. The Hatchville resident said her interactions with them humanized the problem. “Meeting some of these people, putting faces (on the issue),” Davis said. “These are real people with a real problem.”
Davis’ committee has raised about $7,000 from individual donors to put up signs and send out mailers and has campaigned at different locations around town. Whether their efforts have helped convince a majority of Falmouth voters to vote yes remains to be seen. “You just never know how a campaign will affect people and get them out to vote,” Davis said.
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