FALMOUTH – After a decade of issues regarding the two wind turbines that stand at the wastewater treatment plant, the town is no closer to seeing them dismantled.
The town has been working to find ways to either move the turbines for use elsewhere or dismantling and disposing of them completely. The state recently rejected the town’s request under a specific law that would have made it easier to dismantle the turbines without costing millions of more dollars.
“We have a unique situation,” Town Counsel Frank Duffy told the Falmouth Select Board Monday. “All of the Massachusetts general laws provide for putting these things up. There’s no provision in the law that really accommodates us for moving them or taking them down, other than multiple layers of procurement processes, each of which costs a significant amount of money.”
When the two wind turbines, known as Wind 1 and Wind 2, were installed in 2010 and 2013, neighboring property owners filed multiple lawsuits to permanently shut them down, followed by years of legal battles and town debates. The Select Board voted in July 2017 not to operate the wind turbines in town and to explore other alternatives.
In May 2018, Building Commissioner Rod Palmer requested that a plan be submitted regarding the disposal of the first wind turbine. On Monday, Jennifer Mullen, the town’s finance director, said the town was pursuing different alternatives and working with an engineering firm, Weston and Sampson, to figure out a plan for the turbines.
The town contracted the firm to perform an analysis on moving the turbines to another location still in Falmouth but away from neighbors, Mullen said. The town met with Joint Base Cape Cod about potentially hosting the turbines there, but there would be large up-front costs in order to do that.
In April 2019, the town requested letters of interest from organizations interested in operating the wind turbines, but there were few responses.
Last year, town meeting approved an article requesting that the town pay $2.5 million to dismantle and store the turbines.
The town assembled a request to have them dismantled and listed the work as an “energy efficient project” to be bid under Mass. General Law Chapter 25A, which allows the town to send the project out to bid once instead of twice, Mullen said.
The Chapter 25A law requires state approval, but the state Department of Energy Resources determined the town could not proceed under that specific law, Mullen said.
That denial sent the town back to the drawing board, Mullen said.
Attorney Chris Morog, who the town hired as a consultant, said failure to get approval for the 25A procurement presents a myriad of procurement, disposal and legal issues as it relates to moving the turbines to some other parcel of land.
Dismantling and disposing of the turbines requires multiple procurements, involving design, site work, permitting and construction contracts, Morog said. The turbines are also more than 10 years old and have a lifespan of only 20 years, so that could also impact the town getting its money back.
“I just don’t know if there’s value in those turbines to go through all that with all those upfront costs,” Morog said.
He said a discussion needs to be had with the Clean Water Trust about various options and that special legislation may also be required.
Select Board member Doug Jones said it is ridiculous and infuriating that the state denied the use of the 25A chapter law.
“I remain extremely frustrated that the state on one hand is going to say we have to pay the $3.5 million,” he said, “but on the other is hand saying ‘We’re not going to help you.’”
Select Board Chairwoman Megan English Braga said the town needs to speak with the individuals that are making the decision and come up with possible solutions.
“The fact that every dollar we continue to pour into this lost cause of these turbines is a dollar we cannot spend on green energy and renewable energy as we go forward,” English Braga said. “At this point these are huge burdens hanging around the neck of every taxpayer in this community.”
Because taking them down and putting them up somewhere else would cost too much, Vice Chairman Doug Brown said that the turbines should be given away.
“And if we can’t, I suggest we just demolish them on site and sell the metal for scrap and just not waste any more time or money on this,” he said.
Town Manager Julian Suso and other staff will contact the Clean Water Trust and do some background research on if there are other entities involved that would be willing to forgive the principal debt. Duffy also will look into special legislation available.
“No matter what we do, we still have about 10 years worth of annual payments on Wind 1 that we borrowed with a 20-year bond back when this seemed like the cutting edge thing to do,” Suso said. “There are some consequences that will continue to lay themselves out no matter what we do.”
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