FALMOUTH – The town caught a nearly $3 million financial break this week from the state for expenses related to one of its shuttered wind turbines at the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
Based on a vote Wednesday by the board of trustees of the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust, the town must pay back $2.9 million of the $4.9 million original loan for the machine known as Wind 2. No interest will be charged, and the town has until July 2029 to pay it off.
By setting the interest rate at zero percent, the trustees have saved the town an additional $1 million, according to Susan Perez, executive director of the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust.
The downside for the town is that it would not have been required to pay back any of the $4.9 million if Wind 2 had kept spinning. The two turbines at the treatment plant have been ordered shut down separately by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals and a judge.
The money, provided through a loan/grant program established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, was awarded by the Clean Water Trust. No repayment was required as long as the turbine was providing energy efficiency, under the terms of the award.
“The issue of repayment didn’t arise, but with the shutdown, it has arisen,” Falmouth Town Manager Julian Suso said.
Wind 2 went online in February 2012. The turbine, along with Wind 1, which was installed on the wastewater treatment plant property in 2010, drew intense opposition from neighbors almost immediately, who said they were experiencing turbine-related health problems. Several neighbors filed lawsuits to get the turbines shut down.
Wind 1 has been shut down since 2015, when it was denied a special permit by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Wind 2 was ordered permanently shut down in June by a Barnstable Superior Court judge who deemed the operation of the two turbines a nuisance to neighbors.
Selectmen decided not to appeal the judge’s decision.
Town leaders have been meeting with state agencies to see if they can lessen the financial damage to the town caused by the shutdown.
Trustees made the Wind 2 loan reduction “due to the wind turbine being operated as an energy efficient project for the years it was operational,” Perez wrote. “The Trust is open and willing to working with the town to develop a repayment schedule that works for both parties.”
Loans connected to Wind 1 total about $6.6 million. The town took a municipal bond for $5 million to cover initial costs, and twelve years remain on that bond. The town is currently paying $385,000 per year.
Falmouth is obligated to issue Renewable Energy Certificates to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center on Wind 1. Without the turbine’s operation, the town must pay $110,000 annually for another 15 years, for a total of about $1.6 million. Town officials are currently in discussions with the center to see whether that amount can be reduced.
Falmouth Finance Director Jennifer Petit added to the tally of financial impacts the $120,000 or so in annual energy costs to run the wastewater treatment plant since it had been powered by Wind 2 when it was in operation.
Suso said it was difficult to calculate how much revenue the two turbines have provided the town since their startup since their operation was constantly being curtailed to address complaints.
“Wind 1 had been shut down for more than a year, and Wind 2 was only operating for 12 hours per day, six days per week,” Suso said. “That’s only about 40 percent of its capacity.”
Attorneys for the town and the neighbors continue to work on settling the remaining suits related to the turbines, Suso said.
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