FALMOUTH – Operation of the town’s wind turbines is generating more confusion than clarity this week, with the Board of Selectmen disregarding a recent agreement to limit their run time that was negotiated by the town’s lawyer.
On Nov. 7, Town Counsel Frank Duffy agreed to reduce the two 1.65-megawatt turbines’ operation from 16 hours a day to 12 hours. The pact, announced before Barnstable Superior Court Judge Christopher J. Muse, was part of a lawsuit between the town and its own Zoning Board of Appeals over the turbines.
But Brent Putnam, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said at town meeting Wednesday that “despite published reports,” there had been no vote to change the operating hours. In an interview with the Times, he later called news of an agreement “premature.”
“There’s been no legal judgment at this point,” Putnam said Wednesday night after the end of town meeting. “We’ve had an executive session; we’re having another one (Monday). Discussion is going on.”
On Thursday, Duffy referred back only to Putnam’s comments at town meeting and declined to clarify the court proceeding.
“We’re going back to court on Nov. 21 with a report to the court,” he said. “We will be there, and the town’s position will be discussed then.”
In 2012, turbine neighbors Neil and Elizabeth Andersen went to the ZBA to ask the board to declare the two town-owned turbines as nuisances. Earlier this year, the board sided with the couple, leading the town to appeal the decision in court.
The Andersens asked for a preliminary injunction to shut off the turbines while the case worked its way through the courts.
At the Nov. 7 hearing where Muse was to announce his decision on that request, he instead asked Duffy and lawyers representing the Andersens and other turbine abutters to hash out an interim agreement on the operation.
Attorneys for both sides later said they had reached an agreement to run the turbines for 12 hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., down from their current 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. run time.
Barnstable attorney J. Alexander Watt, who represents the Andersens, said he believed the matter was at least temporarily settled. A week later, the turbines are still running 16 hours a day, and Watt said he was confused as to why.
“Whatever Mr. Duffy made as a representation, I certainly thought that was going to be a good representation,” Watt said. “That’s obviously not what happened. … I thought it would have been immediately.”
Since the agreement was verbal, Falmouth is not violating a court order by running the turbines longer than 12 hours a day, Watt said.
Selectman Rebecca Moffitt was part of the negotiations with Duffy and other attorneys in court last week. She did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.
The turbines have been the source of anger in the neighborhoods surrounding the wastewater treatment plant on Blacksmith Shop Road since their installation.
Some neighbors have complained about ill effects caused by their operation, while the town and other residents say they are a needed source of low-emission energy. The town also had planned to make money off their operation by selling green energy credits to power companies.
The Board of Selectmen voted in September to run the turbines for 16 hours a day in an effort to generate enough revenue to cover their operational costs. The selectmen later decided to run them from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., which neighbors called an unacceptably narrow window for sleep, especially for children.
The Falmouth Board of Health recently voted to urge, but not order, the selectmen to reconsider the hours of operation, or at least shift the down time.
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