FALMOUTH — One of two controversial wind turbines at Falmouth’s wastewater treatment plant may become a cell tower, while the second may someday spin again, but not at its present location.
Selectmen have begun to work on resolving the controversy over the two machines, and they are looking to the public for suggestions.
A superior court judge in June put a stop to any future operation of the turbines at their present site.
Ideas from officials and the public will be forwarded to a consulting engineer, who the town will hire to come up with solutions that may include repurposing Wind 1 and relocating Wind 2.
In the meantime, efforts to unload the turbines and mitigate the town’s financial loss to the town continue.
Town officials had several meetings with representatives from Plymouth County to discuss the possible acquisition of one of the turbines, Town Manager Julian Suso wrote in an update he presented Monday at the Board of Selectmen’s regular meeting.
Those talks ended with Plymouth County “declining to proceed with potential acquisition,” Suso wrote.
Falmouth officials have also approached Vestas, the company that manufactured the town’s two turbines, to see whether the company is interested “in turbine disposition and/or potential acquisition by a third party.”
Wind 1 — shut down in 2015 due to a special permit denial from the Zoning Board and more recently ordered to remain permanently offline by a court decision last summer — may have a future as a cell tower.
If the giant blades were removed and only the pole remained, it would no longer be classified as a wind turbine, said Frank Duffy, the town’s attorney. Using it as a cell tower would put it under the provisions of the town’s cell tower bylaw.
It would not only provide better cell service, perhaps for areas like West Falmouth where service is poor, but it could help bolster the town’s public safety communications system.
And leasing space to cell providers could provide the town with some cash, resident Marc Finneran said during Monday’s discussion.
Finneran had come up with the cell tower idea at a previous selectmen’s meeting.
Wind 2 — ordered permanently shut down by Barnstable Superior Court Judge Cornelius Moriarty in June because it was a nuisance to neighbors — might someday whirl at a new location in town, but to accomplish that, the turbine would need a special permit from the Planning Board under the local Wind Energy System bylaw, Suso said.
Both turbines have been the subject of numerous lawsuits filed by neighboring property owners since they came online. Wind 1 began operation in 2010 and Wind 2 started spinning in 2012.
“Is there another place in town it could be relocated without running into the same issues?” said Susan Moran, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, during discussion of the turbines Monday.
Two events prompted Monday’s turbine talk: the Barnstable Superior Court decision in June, and a December directive from Building Commissioner Rod Palmer that the town come up with a plan for the dismantling and removal of Wind 1 by May 31.
Palmer had taken the action after receiving a request by neighbor Mark Cool for enforcement of the town’s wind energy systems bylaw. Palmer responded that he could require the turbine be taken down under the town’s zoning bylaw because it is “non-complying.”
On Tuesday, Cool called the cell tower option for Wind 1 “a good idea at least to explore.”
“It could allow for greater cell coverage, and the town would benefit from leasing space,” he said.
Regarding the relocation of Wind 2, Cool, a former member of the local Zoning Board, said Wind 2 is an illegal “non-complying” structure under the town’s bylaws. Only “lawful” structures can undergo the special permit process, he said.
“Let them figure out Wind 1,” Cool said. “If and when the town chooses to pursue a special permit to relocate Wind 2, if I’m still here, I’ll certainly challenge.”
During the summer, Suso estimated the shutdown of the turbines will cost the town about $10.5 million. That amount includes $4.62 million left in debt on the construction of Wind 1, $2.9 million for the loan on Wind 2, $1.4 million to $1.8 million for electricity to operate the wastewater treatment plant over the next 12 years, and $1.65 million owed to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center over the next 15 years in place of renewable energy credits.
The town needs to “minimize the damage and maximize the value” of the turbines, according to Selectman Megan English Braga.
Currently, abutters are pushing to get Wind 1 dismantled and removed. Conversely, a local citizens group has filed an appeal with the state’s appeals court aimed at restarting the turbines.
“The path we’re going down will require the community coming together to problem solve instead of pushing the envelope,” English Braga said. “The mindset of trying to solve the problem is what we really need.”
Suso will present some options for hiring a consultant at the board’s Jan. 22 meeting.
Remaining Falmouth wind court cases
Funfar v. Zoning Board of Appeals: Diane and Barry Funfar requested removal of Wind 2. The building commissioner denied the request on grounds that it was filed too late and the Zoning Board upheld that denial. The Superior Court affirmed the finding and an appeal is now pending in Appeals Court.
Elder v. Falmouth: Abutters claim that a special permit application for Wind 1 should have been considered by Zoning Board under the 2013 wind energy bylaw instead of under an old bylaw. The permit was denied by the Zoning Board so the town contends the case is moot and has filed motion to dismiss; a hearing may be held in March.
Three other pending cases are related to nuisance. Complainants are seeking a jury trial and damages. One case involving Barry Funfar is scheduled for trial in June. A second, filed by Linda Ohkagawa, and third, filed by Brian and Kathryn Elder and other abutters, do not have assigned dates for trial yet.
Source: Town Counsel Frank Duffy