Turbines to sleep at night: New plan for Wind 1 and 2 in Falmouth
The state’s role in the future of the turbines will be critical, as Falmouth owes millions of dollars in loans and recoverable energy certificates stemming from the project. Town Manager Julian Suso, who has conducted numerous rounds of negotiations with the state over the issue, had indicated that a significant amount of the town’s obligations were likely to be forgiven if the turbines were run at 80 percent capacity. The board’s decision means that the turbines will not approach that figure. However, several selectmen voiced hopes that further negotiations could convince the state to forgive Falmouth’s debts in light of the new curtailment schedule.
Credit: By Conor Powers-Smith | THE BULLETIN | Sep 17, 2013 | www.wickedlocal.com ~~
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Beginning Oct. 1, Falmouth’s Wind 1 and Wind 2 turbines will be run on a new schedule, operating for 16 hours per day, and being shut down between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The new schedule, agreed upon by the selectmen at their Monday night meeting on a 3-2 vote, represents a four-hour increase in operating time from the current 12-on, 12-off plan, but a significant reduction from some proposals the board had been considering, including running the turbines 24 hours a day.
The latest milestone in the saga of Falmouth’s troubled turbines came after the board heard two hours of public comment in the library’s Hermann Meeting Room, to which the meeting was relocated due to space considerations.
Earlier this year, the board voted to recommend the removal of the turbines, a process estimated to cost $14 million. But a proposed tax increase that would have covered the expense was voted down at the May Town Meeting. Several lawsuits involving the turbines have been filed, with more possible.
Some abutters of the town’s wastewater treatment facility, where the turbines are located, have complained of a range of symptoms caused by the machines, including headaches, insomnia, and depression. The issues are worst, they say, at night, when ambient noise is low, and the sounds of the turbines are most noticeable. On Monday, they urged that the turbines be dismantled or permanently shut down.
Wind 1 and 2 found their share of support as well, as proponents argued that the reduction in fossil fuel use made possible by such projects makes them important to the ecological future of the region and the world, and that scientific studies have yet to prove the turbines negatively impact health.
John Ford, a resident of Blacksmith Shop Road, said, “Those of us whose health has been seriously attacked…are hopeful that you will do no further harm.”
Ford urged the board to look past the town’s considerable financial commitments to the turbines. “Money has no conscience. But I believe that each and every one of you do.”
Courtney Barber of Falmouth Heights said the town should make efforts to mitigate the turbines’ impacts on abutters, but not at the cost of curtailing operating hours. “I’m very much in favor of turning the turbines on 24/7,” he said.
“My concern tonight is for mitigation of the climate,” Barber said. “We as a society have dug ourselves into a very deep hole, and we’re just beginning to wake up as a society to this problem.”
Kathy Driscoll, a vocal advocate of the turbines, supported the notion of running them whenever possible in order to pay for such mitigation strategies as sound-dampening insulation of neighboring properties.
“The mitigation only really happen when we have the operation,” Driscoll said. “With that full operation, we can have smart operation.”
Curtailing operation, Driscoll said, not only limits the electricity the turbines generate—and the revenue the town derives from them—but also puts unnecessary stress on them. “Ramping up the turbines and shutting them down puts the greatest wear and tear on the machines.”
David Moriarty of Lower Road said his conversations with abutters have convinced him of the reality of their claims. “Life under the blades is absolutely no life at all,” he said.
Moriarty said the extremely low-frequency noise produced by the spinning turbine blades, known as infrasound, is responsible for many of the health problems reported by neighbors, and would not be lessened by any of the proposed mitigation strategies. “There is only one way to mitigate infrasound, and that is distance,” he said. “Either the turbines go, or the neighbors go.”
Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive said the state should be held responsible for encouraging Falmouth to construct the turbines in the first place, rather than the town being forced to pay for their removal.
“The reason that referendum failed? The voters of Falmouth weren’t dumb enough to pay for the governor’s mistake,” Donald said. “It’s time for you to straighten up, place the blame squarely where it belongs, on the governor’s desk.”
The state’s role in the future of the turbines will be critical, as Falmouth owes millions of dollars in loans and recoverable energy certificates stemming from the project. Town Manager Julian Suso, who has conducted numerous rounds of negotiations with the state over the issue, had indicated that a significant amount of the town’s obligations were likely to be forgiven if the turbines were run at 80 percent capacity.
The board’s decision means that the turbines will not approach that figure. However, several selectmen voiced hopes that further negotiations could convince the state to forgive Falmouth’s debts in light of the new curtailment schedule.
“If you don’t ask, you don’t know,” said Selectman Kevin Murphy, who put forward the motion that was eventually accepted. Murphy said Monday’s public comment made clear that neighbors of the turbines are not interested in mitigation plans, only in the turbines being shut down for as much of the day as possible, especially at night.
Murphy said the town could earmark funds from its budget to pay for any shortfalls created by the curtailments. “That would leave us, ultimately, with as near to break even as we can possibly get.”
Murphy said he would be uncomfortable deriving profits from the turbines, after hearing abutters’ complaints. “To make money on these, at this point in time, in my mind, in my ideal, is blood money.”
Rebecca Moffitt expressed doubt that help from the state would be forthcoming if Falmouth did not hold up its end of the bargain. “The state is not going to come in and give any assistance to Falmouth until Falmouth does it for itself,” she said.
Vice chairman Doug Jones, who seconded Murphy’s motion, said talks with the state would have to continue regardless of the board’s decision. “We have to go back to the state no matter what,” he said. “My proposal is, let’s push them a little more, and see if they’re willing to go down to 68 percent [operation].”
Selectwoman Mary Pat Flynn said the plan would only uphold the status quo, and would represent a failure of leadership. “I’m sure that we can come up with some other ways to do this that are more constructive,” she said.
Chairman Brent Putnam, who eventually cast the deciding vote in favor of the plan, said it represents the best compromise for the time being, though he is far from confident that the state will agree to the town’s terms. “The state may turn around and say, ‘You folks are insane,’” he said.
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