August 4, 2017

Falmouth must repay loan for wind turbine

By Derrick Perkins | The Falmouth Enterprise | August 4, 2017 |

The state agency that gave Falmouth the dollars to erect one of two wind turbines wants a portion of its money back now that the rotors are no longer spinning.

The Massachusetts Clean Water Trust Board of Trustees voted Wednesday, August 2, to convert what was a conditional $4.86 million grant to the town into a loan. The money, originally stemming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, came to Falmouth through the trust to pay for construction of the second turbine, known as Wind 2.

That turbine, located near its twin off Blacksmith Shop Road, stopped operating in June when a Barnstable County Superior Court judge deemed the machines a nuisance. Neighbors for years claimed the two turbines negatively affected their health, causing increased anxiety, among other ailments.

Despite years of litigation over the two turbines, the Falmouth Board of Selectmen in July opted against appealing the decision. The move effectively ended the use of the town’s turbines, forcing officials to consider the financial ramifications, including whether the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust would seek repayment of its loaned dollars.

In the past, officials with the trust warned they retained the option of demanding the money back in full plus interest if the turbine stopped generating electricity.

Instead, the board of trustees forgave about $1.9 million of the principal in recognition of the time Wind 2 was in operation. They also opted not to attach interest to the remaining debt, leaving Falmouth officials with roughly $2.9 million to pay back by 2029.

“The trust is open and willing to working with the town to develop a repayment schedule that works for both parties…” wrote executive director Susan Perez in an e-mail to Town Manager Julian M. Suso.

Mr. Suso said he learned of the decision by phone late on Wednesday. Although he is grateful the agency reduced the principal amount, the financial obligation to the town remains large, he said.

“Obviously, that’s a significant figure and we understand that,” Mr. Suso said. “We also recognize the [partial] principal forgiveness was not mandated, so we appreciate the consideration in that area.”

Including the debt incurred by building Wind 1 but subtracting the roughly $2.9 million forgiven by the trust, the defunct turbines may now cost Falmouth $8,216,000 altogether. That figure excludes any internal legal fees stemming from nearly seven years of court cases involving the wind energy initiative.

The nearly $5 million borrowed for the first turbine is nonnegotiable, Mr. Suso said. He said he and the board of selectmen are in discussions with the state Clean Energy Center regarding the roughly $1.5 million owed in lieu of promised renewable energy certificates from Wind 1.

Mr. Suso said knowing how much money the trust expected returned helped clarify ongoing financial discussions. Selectmen are setting aside the executive session portion of each regularly scheduled board meeting toward resolving the financial and logistical issues surrounding the turbines’ inoperability.

“This is an unfolding story,” he said. “It does not have a definitive end.”

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