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Price check

Falmouth continues the process of preparing its wind turbines for sale.

The November 1 edition of The Enterprise included three very different estimates for the cost of dismantling the turbines—$1,250,000 for each of Falmouth’s two turbines. Then a quick Google search to confirm about the two wind farms Mr. Cool cited: about $410,000 per turbine for each of the 18 turbines at Palmer’s Creek Wind Farm and about $532,000 per turbine for each of the 134 turbines at Nobles Wind Farm.

This is a lot of money to put at risk, and Mark is correct to cross-check the estimates. Thank you, Mark. Indeed, a doubling or tripling of the cost is on its face a good reason to look into things further. One caveat: All numbers here are estimates. Even the number of farm turbines may have changed as they did in Falmouth.

Why is there seemingly such a wide gulf between the estimates for Falmouth and for the rural wind farms? An estimate of $1.25 million per turbine was determined by Weston and Sampson, the engineering firm of record for both the wastewater treatment plant and the town’s two turbines. There are many objective factors in the differences. Some thoughts:

Wind farm numbers include economies of scale that Falmouth’s cannot. Large cranes are costly to rent and costly to move. This overhead cost is a larger percentage of the estimate per turbine for Falmouth.

Once the first turbine is dismantled, the terrain in Falmouth forces the crew to disassemble the crane, move the pieces, then re-assemble it.

Impressions notwithstanding, Mr. Cool’s references look at dismantling and removal when the wind farm has reached the end of its lifetime. This means that rough handling and even destruction may be acceptable. Weston and Sampson must include extra cost because the Falmouth equipment has value to be maintained and sold.

Such estimates as for the Minnesota wind farms lead to bonding, or to cash being placed in escrow. The developer has an incentive to keep this number as low as possible.

Risks and the time value of money will be different.

The estimates for these wind farms are based on removal of the turbines and associated equipment to a depth of four feet. Falmouth may have required a deeper depth to require removal of the foundation that goes much deeper.

Labor costs are higher in Falmouth, Massachusetts, than in farming territory in Minnesota.

Falmouth’s more challenging job may require a specification.

Finally, the Weston and Sampson estimate is probably supposed to be a slightly high “not to exceed” value. Imagine the uproar if the project were to run out of funding before it was completed and had to return to Town Meeting for more.

Are these contributing factors adequate for explaining the full differences? Maybe. It will all come out in the detailed numbers. But they do suggest that taxpayers should anticipate a number a lot higher than the wind farms’ and somewhat lower than Weston and Sampson’s.

John Carlton-Foss

Church Street

Woods Hole