FALMOUTH – Relocating one of two town-owned wind turbines to another spot on the wastewater treatment plant property so it can once again operate would produce a nice profit for the town over the next 20 years, according to an associate from Weston & Sampson, an engineering firm hired to look at alternative locations for Wind II.
While the town would have to pay about $3 million to dismantle, move and set the 400-foot turbine up about a half mile northeast of where it currently stands, its operation would not only ultimately cover that cash outlay, but produce a net profit of $5.7 million over 20 years.
“That’s a substantially positive cost to benefit,” said Stephen Wiehe, while presenting his company’s findings to selectmen Monday.
The estimate assumes the wind turbine would operate without any major disruption.
Selectmen expressed some enthusiasm over the results of the report, with Chairwoman Susan Moran calling them “propitious,” but some members of the public who attended the presentation were miffed that officials would even consider restarting the turbine on the wastewater treatment plant site.
Wind I and Wind II were the subject of nine lawsuits by abutters during their operation. Neighbors complained about a long list of turbine-related health effects.
In 2017, Barnstable Superior Court Judge Cornelius Moriarty agreed the turbines posed a nuisance and ordered them to never again operate where they currently stand.
Wind I had already been prohibited from spinning in Falmouth in 2015, after the state appeals court ruled it needed a special permit which was then denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Its future will likely be limited to supplying spare parts for Wind II.
The study was therefore predominantly focused on Wind II.
Kathryn Elder, one of the abutters who had sued the town over the operation of the wind turbines, told selectmen she was surprised Weston & Sampson only looked at the wastewater treatment plant property.
“Why not elsewhere in Falmouth?” Elder asked. “Or why not a solar project if you’re going to spend $3 million? I’d like to see the Finance Committee look at that option. It doesn’t make sense to throw good money after bad.”
Resident Ronald Zweig pointed out that town meeting voted down a request to fund the dismantling of the turbines in 2013. “Right now, we’re spending money even though they voted not to spend money on removal,” Zweig said.
The cost of the study was $14,000.
Zweig also noted that The Green Center, a local activist group, currently has an appeal of Judge Moriarty’s decision pending in Massachusetts Appeals Court.
Mark Cool, a former member of the Zoning Board as well as an abutter who participated in suits related to the turbines, called the uncertainty over whether Wind II would even qualify to apply for a required special permit to operate “the elephant in the room.”
Wind I, identical to Wind II, was denied the special permit, after the state Appeals Court ruled it required one to operate.
Wind II had also been operating without a special permit, but was never under a court order to undergo Zoning Board review.
“I think there is going to be pushback,” Cool said.
Weston & Sampson’s interpretation of the town’s wind energy bylaw would qualify Wind I for permit consideration, but it is ultimately up to the Planning Board, which is the permitting authority, Wiehe said.
Wiehe touted some positive outcomes related to the turbine’s relocation. One of those involved light and shadow flicker caused by the angle of the sun and the turning turbine blades. While some commercial properties near the new location would be affected by flicker, Wiehe believed no residential properties would be affected.
“I’m pretty confident it won’t cross Route 28,” he said.
Noise effects on neighbors are expected to be reduced as well. The closest residential property to the north of the new location is 2,100 feet and the closest to the south is 2,200.
Selectman Douglas Jones questioned whether Wind II is capable of 20 years of operation, since it had already operated about seven years and a turbine’s design life is 20 years. Wiehe told him the turbine could likely run 25 to 30 years.
Moran stressed the process of deciding Wind II’s fate is still in an early stage. Residents who have questions may submit them to the selectmen’s office, she said.
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