The future of the Scituate Wind turbine could be up to annual Town Meeting voters this spring.
A citizens’ petition has been submitted to the Town Clerk for placement on the April 11 Town Meeting warrant asking for approval to have the Scituate Wind turbine shut down permanently.
The future of the Scituate Wind turbine could be up to Town Meeting voters in April.
Additionally, the Select Board has a placeholder for an article which would offer recommendations for the wind turbine, though the language has not been drafted yet.
“Once we do our homework and look at different viable options, we will make our recommendation,” said Select Board member Karen Canfield.
A bittersweet welcome
The 400-ft. wind turbine located along the Driftway has been a cause of contention for several neighbors since it was installed in April 2012.
Complaints were made to town officials, including the Select Board and the Board of Health, about the negative health impacts due to the noise and flicker of the turbine.
As a result, the Board of Health began tracking noise complaints from neighbors of the turbine, and the town conducted various noise studies based in part on those complaints.
Studies, even those conducted by the state Department of Environmental Protection, deemed the turbine was operating within compliance of noise regulations.
“We’ve conducted multiple sound evaluations to try to come up with the best way to address residents’ concerns and curtail the noise from the turbine,” Canfield said.
The wind turbine was warmly welcomed by many people in town as a step in the right direction towards the town’s “green” initiative.
It was annual Town Meeting in 2008 that approved the installation of the wind turbine in an article sponsored by the Planning Board.
Town Meeting in April 2009 approved a land lease for the purpose of constructing the wind turbine. The lease was signed at the end of 2009 and Scituate entered into a contract agreement with Scituate Wind in May of 2010 for a term of 15 years; four years remain to the contract. Additionally, there is an option for two five-year extensions which would be negotiated between the town and Scituate Wind.
The wind turbine generates about $300,000 annually, of which approximately $100,000 is dedicated to paying debt services for the town’s new buildings, Canfield said. Since its installation, the wind turbine has grossed more than $4.4 million for the town. Expenses paid to Scituate Wind have come to about $2.6 million.
“The town had paid $600,000 to debt exclusion offset,” Canfield said.
Problems and how to fix them
Sound studies by the Department of Environmental Protection, including a study in 2012, showed the Scituate Wind turbine was operating within state guidelines.
In 2013 Town Meeting voted not to approve a citizen petition to cease operation of the turbine.
“Since that time on, we’ve been doing studies,” Canfield said. “The original curtailment was in 2017 – most of the complaints were coming from the southwest so we decided to turn it off when winds were coming from the southwest, but it didn’t really help. We have been working for years to try to find relief for those who are negatively impacted.”
The Select Board eventually voted to have the turbine shut down from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. this past summer through October The board voted in December to keep the turbine off during those hours through spring Town Meeting 2022.
“Based on the serious financial and legal consequences of shutting down the turbine, the Select Board would want Town Meeting approval,” said Select Board Chairperson Karen Connolly.
The Select Board could recommend keeping the turbine shut down overnight over the summer or to shut it down at night year round, or to buy out the contract and retire the turbine permanently.
There is no doubt that Scituate Wind would take the town to court to prevent a shut down, Connolly said.
At the least, the town would need to negotiate with Scituate Wind if the plan was shut down the turbine outside of the contract.
“We don’t have the right to do that,” Canfield said. “We would need to ask Scituate Wind what they would accept as a buyout. They would have no reason to allow the turbine to be shut down if they didn’t want to. It’s not just an agreement between them and us; they have agreements with whomever they sell their energy to.”
An attempt to shut down the turbine outside of the contract would be “very complicated and I’m sure very expensive,” Canfield said.
The town could also face liabilities.
Scituate annual Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 11.
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