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Falmouth will hire consultant to assist with wind turbine disposition

The Falmouth Select Board on Monday, February 22, approved hiring a consultant to assist with the creation of bid documents necessary for the disposition of the two wind turbines at the wastewater treatment plant site on Blacksmith Shop Road.

Attorney Christopher W. Morog told the board that Massachusetts General Law allows for the dismantling and disposal of the turbines under one procurement.

“We could, under Chapter 30.39M, which was the way the turbines were put up, have a procurement that goes out for the removal and disposal of the turbines,” Mr. Morog said. “The bidder, the successful bidder, whether they are paying us an amount of money or we have to pay them to have them removed, would be able to do what they like with them, if they are the lowest responsible bidder.”

Select board member Douglas C. Brown asked why the town would need to hire a consultant.

“There would have to be a consultant to put together those bid specifications, as it would be a public procurement for construction under Chapter 30, Section 39M,” Mr. Morog said.

The specifications would specify what portions of the turbine would be removed and what can stay in place. He said it is possible certain elements of the turbines, including the concrete foundations and underground wiring, could remain at the wastewater treatment plant site.

“That would all need to be delineated by an engineering firm that typically does that type of work,” Mr. Morog said.

Mr. Brown asked if there was any interest in using the wind turbine towers as a cellphone tower. Town Manager Julian M. Suso said town administration explored that option.

“The best I can say is there is mild interest in it, but the technology seems to be shifting, and there is much less interest in it than there might have been five or 10 years ago,” Mr. Suso said.

Noting the town has some problems with cellphone reception, he said the procurement process might reveal ways to address that. Rather than repurpose a wind turbine tower as a cellphone tower, Mr. Suso said, the town might be able to reuse the concrete foundation as a base for a stand-alone cellphone tower.

Last October, Mr. Morog and Falmouth Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy said special legislation might be required to remove the turbines. Mr. Morog advised against special legislation at this time.

“Unfortunately, after further investigation, it appears that special legislation avenue is fraught with potential obstacles,” Mr. Morog said, including an unknowable timetable, the need to commit additional town resources without any guarantee of a positive financial result, and a lackluster interest from potential bidders due to the age of the turbines.

The two Vestas 1.65-megawatt, V-82 wind turbines with 80-meter-tall towers were installed in 2009 and 2010.

While the hiring of a consultant to create bid documents moves the disposition of the wind turbines along, it does not address Falmouth’s loan from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust. The town borrowed $4,865,000 from the trust to erect Wind 2; the loan agreement states Falmouth would not owe principal or interest as long as Wind 2 remains operational. However, because Wind 2 was operated in the past, the town’s obligation has been reduced to $3.5 million.

“Those are big numbers for a community of our size, and they remain daunting,” chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said.

She said discussions with the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust need to continue.

“There are some representatives that we have who have some real affinity and connection here with this town, and I think we need to get their eyes on this and have conversations about what that financial burden really means to us and what impact it is going to have on our community,” Ms. English Braga said.

Mr. Morog said the consultant’s cost estimate to remove those turbines will help move the conversation forward. He said it is more likely the town will pay for the removal of the turbines, rather than receive a payment for the removal.

“Once we have that cost estimate, we will be in a better position to have a follow-on discussion with the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust about utilizing the available funds that have already been appropriated for dealing with these two turbines, the cost of potential removal, and how we would like to address, with the Clean Water Trust, in resolving the outstanding issue of repayment,” he said.

Mr. Brown said a study by Weston & Sampson estimated it would cost $2.5 million to dismantle and store the wind turbines. He asked if the estimate would satisfy the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust. Mr. Morog said it would not.

“What Weston & Sampson had done, and I read that report and that study, was take it down in a fashion that would, if you will, make it so it can be reused,” he said. “That might be a much different process and much more expensive process than if someone looked at these and wanted to utilize them for some portion of the parts, for scrap, or for something else. It really makes a difference, and I suspect the costs of the Weston & Sampson report for the removal and how they proposed it are much, much more expensive, especially with talking about storage and bringing in a large crane to dismantle in a reverse Swiss watch-like function.”

Board member Douglas H. Jones said the next step is to develop a request for proposal and moved the board hire a consultant to do so.

“As Chris was just saying, there is a good chance we don’t need to spend as much money as we thought to take them down,” Mr. Jones said. “We’ve already put the $2.5 million towards that. There is a good chance there will be some left over. We may have to split that or give that to the Clean Water Trust, but we may not have to go above what we’ve already appropriated to resolve this issue.”

Wind 1 was shut down in September 2015 after the zoning board of appeals issued a cease-and-desist order. Wind 2 was shut down in June 2017 after Barnstable County Superior Court Judge Cornelius J. Moriarty II upheld the board of appeals’ decision deeming the turbines a nuisance. In December 2017, Building Commissioner Rodman L. Palmer ordered the removal of Wind 1 as a noncomplying structure under the town’s Wind Energy System bylaw. Town Meeting approved $2.5 million to begin the disposition of the two wind turbines in November 2019.