FALMOUTH – Selectmen want to know how long the town’s two wind turbines have to turn every day to provide enough revenue to cover not only their operation but to fund, at least in part, a mitigation plan for homeowners who say they’ve been negatively affected by their operation.
At their Monday night meeting, the five selectmen got a 16-page report from Town Manager Julian Suso providing more detail on alternatives to running the two 1.65-megawatt turbines, known as Wind 1 and Wind 2.
The report appropriately was titled the Wind Turbines Alternative Report since the selectmen’s preferred choice – removal of the devices at a cost of between $12.2 million and $15.2 million – was voted down both at town meeting and the ballot box this year.
Suso’s report stated that the town’s legal counsel has advised that any option must include a mitigation component “to respect the concerns of the neighbors.” To that end, the board voted 4-1 to have Suso draw up options for mitigation funding under the assumption that the two turbines operate at at least 76 percent of their combined capacity each day. That would generate $1.6 million to $3.8 million in revenue cumulatively between 2015 and 2025, according to town estimates.
Chairman Brent Putnam was the sole dissenter, saying he feared the action would take the current 12-hour operation of each turbine off the table, if not in reality then in the eyes of the public.
Some neighbors “would prefer no mitigation but decreased operation,” he said. “Mitigation implies we are going to insulate a home, but what will we do for a yard?”
Although the selectmen didn’t take official action to rule out the current operational scheme, it was clearly a less-than-favored approach, both financially and practically.
As Selectmen Kevin Murphy pointed out, the current half-day operation has the turbines running during the day, which would affect homeowners’ outdoor activities.
“The only option that would provide that was taking them down, stopping the turbines and dismantling them,” he said. “We know that ship has sailed.”
The half-day operation also costs the town more to run the turbines than they generate in revenue, and has depleted the $1 million reserve fund built up by their earlier operation. As a result, Suso said, the town has no cushion to pay for an unexpected malfunction or mechanical problem that would take the turbines offline. All of the options in his report include a five-year period to restore the reserve fund to its $1 million threshold.
“The more we delay this, the more we put this complex machinery at risk,” he said. “The machinery is leaving its warranty period, it’s being operated in a manner in which we shut it down and start it up, a manner for which it was not designed.”
Since the removal plan was voted down in a May 21 ballot question, selectmen have been faced with the uncertain task of developing a secondary plan that will serve both town coffers and town voters.
The turbines at the town’s wastewater facility on Blacksmith Shop Road have been the focus of an ongoing debate, with neighbors complaining about noise and health issues and others saying the town must run them to recoup installation costs and provide a source of renewable energy.
Selectmen plan to have a course of action decided upon by September and implemented by October. Suso is aiming to bring back the mitigation option data to the selectmen at their next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 27.