FALMOUTH – Neil Andersen and his wife, Elizabeth, opened the windows on the north side of their Blacksmith Shop Road house Tuesday for the first time in five years.
They could take the seemingly mundane action, Neil Andersen said, because the steady swishing sound of a wind turbine had finally ceased.
“Wind 1 is off,” he said. “It’s just tremendous.”
But the couple’s relief may be short-lived.
A day after the Falmouth Board of Selectmen voted in a closed-door session on Monday to shut down Wind 1, one of the town’s two wind turbines, while it fights a cease-and-desist order against the device’s operation, the board on Tuesday voted to place three warrant articles before the planned Nov. 10 special town meeting. One of the articles would exempt the turbine from zoning requirements retroactively, paving the way for it to be turned back on.
Andersen and other neighbors of the wind turbines, which are located at the town’s wastewater treatment facility on Blacksmith Shop Road, have been fighting the 397-foot-tall devices nearly since they were installed in 2009. Residents have complained about health effects from their operation and have used a number of avenues to try to shut them down but, until recently, have been unsuccessful. This year, however, the scales have tipped in the neighbors’ favor.
In February, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling by Barnstable Superior Court Judge Robert Rufo and ruled that Wind 1 was constructed without proper zoning approval. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court later declined to review the case, forcing the town to apply for a special permit for a turbine it’s been running for years.
The cease-and-desist order was issued Sept. 17 by the Zoning Board of Appeals and the town has until Oct. 13 to challenge the ruling in court. While town officials initially said the turbine would continue to run in the interim, selectmen decided to abide by the order instead.
Until the zoning process ends, which could take months, neighbors wanted Wind 1 turned off. Rufo initially declined to order the turbine shut down, but the zoning board voted 4-1 to issue the cease-and-desist order, overruling Zoning Enforcement Officer Eladio Gore’s decision not to stop the turbine’s operation.
When the town declined to stop the turbine in the interim, attorneys Christopher Senie and J. Alexander Watt filed a request for an independent cease-and-desist order with Rufo. A hearing was set for 2 p.m. Thursday, but attorneys had agreed to cancel it in the wake of Monday’s decision, Watt said.
“I don’t think we need to take up the court’s time with this. … I just don’t think there’s any more we can get out of (the town) at this point,” Watt said before Tuesday’s meeting.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Doug Jones declined to comment before the meeting on the board’s decision to shut down Wind 1 beyond a statement sent to the Times by Town Manager Julian Suso on Monday.
On Tuesday, the board placed three articles on the special town meeting warrant: one which exempts any turbine owned by the town and used for municipal purposes that was in existence before the town’s wind energy bylaw from the requirements of the bylaw; one which would allow the town to appropriate money to make up for revenue lost if the turbine is not operating; and a third, petitioned article signed by 140 residents, that seeks support for the selectmen in “maximizing the benefits and thereby minimizing any financial burden to Falmouth’s citizens” from the operation of the turbines.
The turbines were already operating on a reduced schedule under the terms of a court order in a separate case before Superior Court Judge Christopher Muse, who ruled in November 2013 that the devices could run only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days a week. Gerald Potamis, the town’s wastewater superintendent, said he has been working with Vestas, the turbines’ manufacturer, since late last week on a procedure to maintain Wind 1 should it be shut off on a longer-term basis.
The turbine will be kept in what’s called a “remote owner stop” mode, which allows the turbine’s nacelle to turn to point into the wind and the blades to rotate slowly but not fast enough to generate any power, Potamis said. It’s the same procedure now used when the turbine shuts down overnight and on Sundays, he said.
Also, Vestas will put the turbine into “freewheeling” mode about every two weeks, during which time the blades will engage but, again, not at a speed that’s fast enough to produce power. The procedure will allow the turbine’s internal machinery to remain lubricated during what may be a prolonged shutdown, Potamis said.
“Julian (Suso) told me as soon as the cease-and-desist order was filed to be prepared to put in a procedure,” Potamis said. “I’ve been back and forth with Vestas to get the terms down.”
The same fate may be coming to Wind 2 later this year. On Oct. 29, the same night as the town’s special permit application is slated to begin, the Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled to hear requests to overturn Gore’s decision not to shut down Wind 2.
Although Gore’s rationale for that decision was different than his Wind 1 ruling, Andersen said he believes the result will be the same
“It has to. It’s exactly the same situation,” he said. “People have to remember that this is all about the ill health. We wouldn’t have fought it this far if it was just a simple zoning issue. It’s all about the health.”
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