After lengthy debate, Town Meeting members approved the appropriation of $200,000 to the town’s energy receipt account at Special Town Meeting Tuesday night.
The $200,000 will cover money lost by the town by the temporary stoppage of Wind 1, the first of the town’s two wind turbines. The zoning board of appeals voted in September to issue a cease and desist order for the turbine after the Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruled in February that the turbine could not operate without a special permit.
“All we’re trying to do is replentish funds to balance our budget,” selectmen chairman Douglas H. Jones said.
In a presentation made for Town Meeting members Tuesday night, Jennifer Petit, the town’s finance director, said that stopping the turbine for six months would leave the town with an estimated deficit of $574,000. However, some Town Meeting members voiced frustration with what they saw as the failed direction the operation of the turbines have taken.
“I don’t think we should spend another hard-earned dollar on this failed project,” said David R. Moriarty, a member of Precinct 6.
Peter D. Cook, also of Precinct 6, said that without knowing how money has been and will continue to be spent on the turbines, he had trouble supporting the requested appropriation. Douglas H. Shearer, a Precinct 6 member who formerly served with the planning board in Bourne before moving back to Falmouth, also questioned the transparency and management of the project. He said the difficulties with the turbines in Falmouth have set a bad precedent for proposed turbine projects in other towns including Bourne.
“I think we all have an issue of trust that we have to deal with,” he said. “Trust is a sore subject here in Falmouth.”
Austin A. Heath, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 8, asked if there was any way moving forward for the turbines to make money for the town. Mr. Jones said the turbines would make money if they operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The town would break even if they operated 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and lose money operating 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
A motion was made by Precinct 9 member and former selectman Brent Putnam to table the article until a full accounting of money spent on the turbines is presented to Town Meeting members. Mr. Putnam advocated for stopping the turbines altogether, arguing that the town should “cut its losses” as neighbors continue to fight the turbines’ operation.
“They’re going to continue to fight this, and guess what? They’re winning,” he said. Mr Putnam’s motion to table the article failed on Town Meeting floor.
However, Peter J. Hargraves of Precinct 9 supported the continued operation of the turbines, noting that a two-thirds majority of residents who voted at the town election in 2013 voted in favor of keeping the turbines running.
“I’m supposed to be voting for those people who voted at the ballot box,” he said.
The article passed by a majority vote on Town Meeting floor.
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