FALMOUTH — Falmouth will get a major break on the $1.5 million debt it owes to the state Clean Energy Center, thanks to an agreement between local and state officials reached in connection to one of two wind turbines at the wastewater treatment plant.
After a closed-door session Monday, Selectmen Chairwoman Susan Moran announced the debt, which is related to Wind 1, was negotiated down to $178,000.
No details were provided on how the arrangement came about, other than to say the agreement had been worked on by Town Manager Julian Suso, Finance Director Jennifer Petit and Town Counsel Frank Duffy.
Selectman Douglas Jones said a request for the $178,000 will be made at the spring annual town meeting.
The town was left to deal with some hefty outstanding loans when a Barnstable Superior Court judge ordered both turbines to shut down permanently last summer.
Debts connected to Wind 1 total about $6.5 million. The town took a municipal bond to cover $5 million of the cost, and 12 years remain on the loan. The town is currently paying $385,000 per year, and there’s no negotiating out of that commitment.
The $1.5 million in prepayment for renewable energy certificates from the Clean Energy Center would have required payments from the town of $110,000 per year for the next 15 years, and officials had been working with the state over the last several months to see whether any of that could be forgiven.
Some of the cost of Wind 2 has already been mitigated via a deal the town negotiated late last summer. The $4.9 million in outstanding debt for Wind 2 — money supplied via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and administered by the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust — was reduced by the agency to $2.9 million. The town also got out from under about $1 million in interest as part of the agreement.
The loan is now interest-free and the $2.9 million due in full by July 2029.
If Wind 2 had kept spinning and producing clean energy, the town would not have been required to pay back any of the $4.9 million.
Wind 1, erected in 2010, and Wind 2, constructed in 2012, have been the source of bitter complaints from neighbors, along with several court cases.
Wind 1 has not operated since 2015, when it was denied a special permit by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Barnstable Superior Court Judge Cornelius Moriarty shut down Wind 2 last June, in response to a lawsuit from an abutter, and declared both wind machines a nuisance. The judge ordered the pair to remain permanently offline as long as they are at their present location.
The selectmen voted not to appeal Judge Moriarty’s decision.
In December, Falmouth Building Commissioner Rod Palmer gave selectmen until the end of May to come up with a plan for disposition of Wind 1. Discussion to date has included selling off Wind 1 for parts or turning it into a cell tower, and possibly relocating Wind 2.
On Monday, selectmen voted to authorize Suso to spend $15,000-$20,000 on a consulting engineer, who could study all the options, including relocating one or both turbines to another spot on the wastewater treatment site.
“I think it’s important to provide the board with a well-thought-out alternatives,” Suso said. “The previous study (for siting the wind turbines) didn’t take a serious look at alternative locations on the 300-acre wastewater site, and the potential for locating the turbines the most distance from the residents.”
The turbines had been sited based on wind speeds and maximum power yield. This time, the priority would be on impact to abutters, Suso said.
Meanwhile a group of environmental activists have lobbied to get the wind turbines back online in their current location.
Judge Moriarty denied a request from The Green Center and some citizens to reconsider his order for permanent shutdown of the wind machines.
The group has now filed an appeal of Moriarty’s decision in Massachusetts Appeals Court.