FALMOUTH – Town officials will be given until May 31, 2018, to produce a plan for dismantling and removing the mammoth Wind 1 turbine that stands on the wastewater treatment plant property.
Building Commissioner Rod Palmer responded in writing Tuesday to a request for enforcement of the local wind energy systems bylaw, submitted to him recently by Fire Tower Road resident Mark Cool.
Cool pointed out that Wind 1, shut down in 2015 due to a lack of special permit, met the definition for abandonment under the town’s wind energy systems bylaw, which requires that turbines idle for 12 months be considered dormant and taken down.
In his letter to Cool, Palmer wrote that he didn’t need to invoke the wind energy systems bylaw to take action. The town’s building commissioner is responsible for enforcement of all the town’s zoning bylaws, he said, and can order the removal of any noncomplying structure. Wind 1 is noncomplying, Palmer wrote.
On Wednesday, Cool said he could not comment because he had not yet received Palmer’s letter.
The building commissioner’s directive was to put together a plan for the wind turbine’s dismantling and “removal from its present location.”
Neighbor Barry Funfar expressed continued frustration with town officials and the amount of time being given to selectmen to come up with a plan.
“I’m not feeling good about it at all,” Funfar said. “I feel like the selectmen are dragging their feet. There’s a rumor about moving the turbine to another location on the wastewater treatment plant. My fear is they’re biding their time to allow for something to occur.”
Town Manager Julian Suso said he was not aware of any plan to move the turbine somewhere else on the property.
Suso wasn’t in Falmouth when Wind 1 was erected in 2010 and Wind 2 in 2012, “but my understanding is that it’s a very complex process and has to be done properly,” he said.
Dismantling Wind 1 and removing it will be equally challenging, Suso said.
“It’s not like we’re moving a storage shed,” he said.
The two turbines are 400 feet high and have been a source of bitter controversy since they began to spin.
During the summer, Suso estimated the shutdown of the turbines will cost the town about $10.5 million. That amount includes $4.62 million left in debt on the construction of Wind 1, $2.9 million for the loan on Wind 2, $1.4 million to $1.8 million for electricity to operate the wastewater treatment plant over the next 12 years, and $1.65 million owed to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center over the next 15 years in place of renewable energy credits.
On Wednesday, Suso said town officials are “in discussion” with the state over the renewable energy credits” as well as on the loan for Wind 2, which requires it to remain operating.
Wind 2 has not operated since June, when Barnstable Superior Court Judge Cornelius Moriarty determined both turbines were a nuisance and must remain shut down.
Although there is not yet a firm cost estimate for dismantling and removing the two machines, Suso recently said it will probably be “in excess of $1 million.”
George Woodwell, a Woods Hole scientist, is a member of The Green Center, a group that unsuccessfully tried to intervene in Moriarty’s decision to permanently shut down the turbines. The Green Center, along with some residents going under the name Friends of Falmouth Wind, have now filed a notice that they will appeal Moriarty’s ruling in Massachusetts Appeals Court.
That process could take up to a year.
Woodwell said he isn’t surprised by Palmer’s order that town officials must produce a plan for dismantling Wind 1, but added that town meeting denied a funding request to dismantle the turbines three years ago.
“They’ll have to live within the limitations of that earlier vote, or if there is another vote to take them down, they have to find about $1 million to do it,” Woodwell said.
Woodwell has said Falmouth, a center for several scientific institutions, should be promoting green energy rather than stopping a green energy initiative.
“Dismantling is not just a financial issue,” he said. “It’s an issue of perspective.”
The Green Energy Center is hoping to come to a compromise with wind opponents that is less final than dismantling, he said.
Susan Moran, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the board is moving cautiously due to several turbine-related suits that they are working to settle and because of the complexity of removing the turbines.
“The Board of Selectmen wants to make sure we carefully think through as many possible effects as we can,” Moran said. “We have to balance the very heavy financial burden. Those machines have some value and we want to optimize that.”
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