The seven-year saga of Falmouth’s two town wind turbines may now be coming to an end.
Superior Court Judge Cornelius J. Moriarity, after hearing evidence from the town and the turbines’ neighbors, last month ruled that the board of appeals was correct in finding that Wind 2, the town’s second turbine, was a nuisance to its neighbors, and the judge ordered it to be shut down.
Wind 1, the town’s other turbine, had already been shut down in 2015 by a decision from the state Appeals Court, which ruled a special permit was required. The board of appeals subsequently denied a special permit for that turbine on the same grounds, of being a nuisance to the nearby neighbors.
These two judicial decisions put the town administration and selectmen in crisis mode.
As long as one of the turbines was operating even some of the time, the revenues generated were enough to mostly cover the cost of paying the principal and interest on the money the town borrowed to buy Wind 1—about $400,000 a year.
Now that neither turbine is allowed to operate, the money to pay that obligation has to come from somewhere else.
To make things worse, Wind 2’s shutdown could trigger a demand by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (CEC), the state agency that “gave” Wind 2 to the town using federal stimulus funds, to repay the $5 million cost of Wind 2.
So what should the town leaders do?
One thing they should not do is appeal Judge Moriarity’s decision. The judge clearly applied the law correctly, and the Appeals Court has already demonstrated it is not going to find otherwise. This town has spent way more money on outside special counsel for these wind turbine cases than anyone ever expected, and gotten nothing for it.
The answer to the question of what the town should do is lying in plain sight.
Back in 2012 and 2013, a blue ribbon committee of citizen volunteers, town officials, and outside experts, with the awkward acronym of WTOP (for Wind Turbine Options Process) spent eight months digging into this very complex issue, trying to find common ground.
This panel included our community’s best, representing all sides of the issue. Primary participants were Megan Amsler, David Baily, Karen Cardeira, Alden Cook, Kathy Driscoll, Todd Drummey, Kathryn Elder, Judith Fenwick, Diane Funfar, Joe Hackler, Jim Luyten, Jeff Oppenheim, and Bob Shea, joined by Selectmen Doug Jones and Mary (Pat) Flynn.
Their report, rather ponderously titled “Wind Turbine Option Analysis Process Final Report to the Falmouth Board of Selectmen,” discussed the pros and cons of operating both turbines full time, and of operating them part time.
And it included a recommendation that addresses the question the town is now facing: what to do if the town can no longer operate the wind turbines at all?
Their answer, back in 2013, was to sell the wind turbines and remove them, and replace them with a photovoltaic (solar) array. This solution would collect whatever value the wind turbines may have at a location elsewhere or for parts, while recommitting the town to the values that for many motivated the acquisition of the wind turbines in the first place—reducing the town’s carbon emissions while producing energy.
Four years ago, WTOP laid out a practical roadmap to get the town out of the hole it now finds itself in. The WTOP report stated, “only when combined does this package approach the goal of addressing all the core concerns of all the stakeholder groups at the table.” It was a good plan then, and it is a better plan now.
The selectmen and town administration would be well advised to revisit and update the WTOP plan’s financial assumptions, and then to implement the WTOP’s recommendations.
Then they should determine what a fair contribution of support from CEC would be in making the town whole, considering CEC’s complicity in the selling of this project to the town.
And then they should put a hard court press on our legislators and the governor’s office to insure CEC does its part to end the seven years of community discord and legal and financial woes this has cost our town.
Eric Turkington is a Falmouth attorney. He represented Falmouth in the State Legislature from 1989 to 2009