Falmouth Selectmen Vote to Increase Operating Hours of Wind Turbines

9/16/2013 Selectmen's meeting.CHRISTOPHER KAZARIAN/ENTERPRISE - 9/16/2013 Selectmen's meeting.

By a 3-2 vote last night at the Falmouth Public Library selectmen voted a long-range plan for the wind turbines at the Wastewater Treatment Facility, electing to increase the operation for both machines from 12 hours per day to 16 hours per day.

The move will become effective October 1, prior to which the board will vote a specific eight-hour window of time that the turbines will be shut down.

The board had been considering a range of models starting with the one they chose—considered a break-even scenario—to operating them with no limitations, 24 hours per day. Last week town manager Julian M. Suso focused on four scenarios in which the two turbines would operate to the point that they were generating revenue that could be used for mitigation measures at the homes of neighbors impacted by the machines.

But selectmen elected to provide mitigation only by way of limiting the operation for the turbines which Selectman Kevin E. Murphy argued would provide residents with what they wanted most, minimal disruption of their lives. And it would ensure the town would not be losing money on the turbines as it has since May 2012 when it voted to operate the machines from 7 AM to 7 PM.

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Mr. Murphy said based upon public testimony he believed the best scenario was the one that impacted neighbors the least. “They want us to mitigate the situation to the best possible terms within our means and within our means is to break even without disrupting their lives or causing sleep deprivation,” he said, adding that it was clear that neighbors did not want mitigation in the form of purchasing homes, insulating homes or covering the cost of purchasing shades to minimize the impact of shadow flicker from turbines.

That scenario, Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn said, “doesn’t provide any mitigation at all.”

“I agree,” Selectman Douglas H. Jones replied.

“I don’t think it helps the neighbors at all,” she said, later calling the proposal a poor one in that it does not “show any leadership or move us forward in terms of the need to increase funding to operate the turbines or do anything to move the situation with the neighbors forward... I think this is just maintaining the status quo.”

“To make money on these [turbines] in my mind and my idea is blood money,” Mr. Murphy said.

Moffitt Sticks to Stance

Siding with Ms. Flynn was Selectman Rebecca Moffitt, who preferred operating the turbines without any limitations. It is an opinion she said she has held since running for selectmen this past spring. “I haven’t changed one bit,” she said. “I have a feeling the turbines bring revenues to this town that are needed.”

Ms. Moffitt also questioned the idea of adopting the model because it would require the town to seek financial assistance from the state. Falmouth will look to have the $4.85 million loan it received in stimulus money to construct Wind 2 to be forgiven and turned into a grant. Additionally, it will ask the state to forgive Falmouth the $1 million it gave the town for Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) that represent the energy expected to be generated by Wind 1 between 2015 and 2029.

And the town will request that the state provide funds for mitigation to neighbors impacted by the turbines.

Whether the state will agree to some, or all, of these terms is not known, although Ms. Moffitt did not believe it would. Earlier this year when selectmen recommended to Town Meeting the turbines be dismantled—a proposal voters did not approve in the ballot in May—the state balked at offering any assistance.

“To make money on these [turbines] in my mind and my idea is blood money,” Mr. Murphy said.

“After all the discussion and words, we seem to be at the very same point we were at a year ago,” Ms. Moffitt said, adding that adopting the model shows no growth.

Mr. Jones shot back at Ms. Moffitt, saying that all of the proposed models before the board would require help from the state.

“I want to go to the state and say this is what we feel might serve the residents best,” Mr. Jones said. “They have no interest in having their homes insulated, no interest in financial renumeration and no interest in us buying their homes. They begged us not to run them at night. Every other option does not give them more than six hours of quiet.”

Chairman Brent V.W. Putnam admitted he was less inclined to vote for operating the machines 24 hours per day, noting that “the idea we are going to run the turbines more to generate money to mitigate the problem is circular logic. We are sort of chasing our tail in that situation.”

He said he could not justify running the turbines more, simply to provide mitigation for the neighbors or to conduct scientific studies to learn more about the machines and their impacts on the neighbors. “It doesn’t sit well to have the neighbors be guinea pigs to find out what is going on,” he said.

While he voted in favor of the 16-hour operational model, he said, having to ask the state for assistance could ultimately be an exercise in futility.

If the state does not offer its help, the board will have to go back to the drawing board to find a new solution to the problem that has plagued the town since Wind 1 became operational in March 2010.

Turbines: Everyone Has an Opinion

Over the past three years the turbines have divided the town with some residents calling for the turbines to come down, some calling for them to be run full time and some calling for more of a compromise. Prior to the board’s vote last night that array of opinions was on display as the public spent close to two hours offering their input to the board.

Robert A. Frosch of McCallum Drive, Falmouth, kicked off the public comment session by calling on the board to consider conducting more studies to determine what exactly is happening with the turbines and why they are impacting residents.

Others, such as Judith G. Stetson of Quissett Avenue, Woods Hole, demanded the board take steps to reverse the damage that has been done to residents living around the wind turbines. “We are responsible for the huge mistake we made,” she said. “We must not continue to deny our mistake, and not continue to allow a small group of residents suffer consequences of our mistake.”

Judith Fenwick of Mill Road, a former member of the Wind Turbine Options Process Group, wondered why selectmen had not considered the possibility of taking the turbines down and replacing them with a photovoltaic array.

Several residents warned the board about the impacts of climate change, stressing the need for the turbines to remain up and Falmouth to do its part by keeping the turbines on and showing its commitment to renewable energy.

Linda E. Davis of Boxberry Hill Road, Hatchville, warned that if selectmen focus solely on the revenues generated by the machines, they would pay the consequences. “Run them 24/7 and if you can find a few more hours, run them another five. Run them in the winter time, the summer time in thunderstorms,” she said. “And when you vote, I’ll tell you this, you should vote unanimously and you put your signatures on that vote and, management, you put your signature on that vote. And when the final chapter is written and they [turbines] fall all of you should go.”

After hearing more than three dozen residents speak, at times passionately, about the subject, Jonathan Goldman of Sidney Street, Woods Hole, complained that little had changed, at least with the divisive nature of the wind turbines. “Yes, we get a chance to say our piece, but the reality is these are the recommendations and unless there is some kind of forward step, we are moving very, very much in a circle,” he said. “We need healing and I’m sorry to say I don’t hear that healing tonight.” 

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  • cshore6

    Siding with Ms. Flynn was Selectman Rebecca Moffitt, who preferred operating the turbines without any limitations. It is an opinion she said she has held since running for selectmen this past spring. “I haven’t changed one bit,” she said. “I have a feeling the turbines bring revenues to this town that are needed.” I completely agree. Don't come to the taxpayers looking for money on an "override" until the Turbines are run 24/7 to obtain the maximum return on the Taxpayers investment for the 2 revenue generators. The status quo is not acceptable to financially responsible Taxpayers. We gave $19 Million Complete the High School to bail out the Town Officials because of cost overruns due to poor project management. When will the bleeding related to the Turbine decreased revenue STOP? If it doesn't stop soon, the Taxpayers will get screwed again and/or town services, teachers and other operating expenses will be cut and badly needed Capital Projects will not be done.
  • cshore6

    Cogratulations and thank you to Ms. Flynn and Rebecca Moffitt for staying with their positions, trying to represent ALL TAXPAYERS, not just the loudest ones.
  • NortheasternEE

    There is no mention in the article that Wind-1 was found by state regulators to be generating over 50 decibels of offensive noise 1,320 feet away. Falmouth bylaws limit noise to 40 decibels. The typical ambient sound level in Falmouth is around 30 decibels. At 50 decibels all three wind turbines are violating that state noise pollution regulation of 10 decibels above ambient on a regular basis. There are three identical wind turbines in Falmouth. All three are violating noise pollution regulation. Sooner or later an enterprising lawyer will mobilize the impacted residents into a class action suit that could cost the town millions of dollars, making the small sums the town is trying to save on the backs of the impacted residents trivial. The board needs to understand that the turbines are violating noise pollution regulations, and shut all three down, This is a fight the town cannot win, and the losses could be huge.
  • MCool

    Robert Frost’s poetic verse seems emblazoned upon the Selectmen’s psyche. “… promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep...” The Board of Selectmen last Monday night, reestablished a promise to protect basic sleep health requirements for wind turbine neighbors. Common sense dictates, when sleep health is weighed against money, sleep shall take precedence. Selectmen believed this before, and remain committed to that promise now. In the wake of keeping their promise, budget consequences result. The turbines could cost the town more than $4 million in the next 10 years to operate. Yet, what of a promise made to Town Meeting that no other money would be sought after first funding approvals. The project was to be “a home-run” said Project Manager Heather Harper. What of the promise made by the state, encouraging Town Meeting’s well intention? The state clarified the project was in the right place, for all in Falmouth's benefit and that all would be fine. What of those promises? Falmouth’s “miles to go” translate now into the ongoing negotiations with the state for financial aid. Will the state’s previous promises be part of the negotiations? Will the Governor share the Selectmen’s commitment to a citizens sleep health more than to money? Or will the state urge the revocation of the 8 hour sleep policy as the ransom required to forgive debt contracts? Falmouth’s integrity, as a step toward Community cohesion, now more than ever, balances upon a strong constitution of not bending or bowing to wind “blood money”.
  • Billcarson

    Where is the September 12, 2012 video of the CBI-WTOP meeting on the turbines ? This should be considered important. The proponents of the wind turbines are probably glad it has never been seen. I'm asking the news media through this blog to find or explain why the video is missing or lost. The news media owes it to the public to show a balance on the argument over the turbines that include health effects. One item has been left out and that is the bonding & stimulus funds wether they were a loan or a grant. The grant or loan question has never been viewed by the public on public cable TV. The Consensus Building Institute was hired for almost $400,000.00 to negotiate a resolution to the wind turbine process. The purpose of the Falmouth Wind Turbine Option Analysis Process (WTOP) was to video tape all the twenty something meetings and show them on Falmouth Cable TV ,FCTV. The CBI had all the meetings video taped and shown on local TV for all the residents of Falmouth. What the public doesn't know is the September 12, 2012 video tape was never shown to the public.My contention is that not showing the video edits all the other videos because the public never got all the information through FCTV. According to the printed minutes of that meeting the meeting was taped by a volunteer. Here is the quote from those minutes : Filming: John Carleton-­‐Foss filmed the meeting as a volunteer for FCTV. After contacting the representatives of CBI that conducted the meetings and video they were unable to locate the video. Folks $400,000.00 was spent on these meetings and what I call the "smoking gun video" has never been shown on FCTV. The question needs to be asked who, why, what, when and where is the video and why was it never shown to the public ? Why is no one looking for the missing video ? http://www.cbuilding.org/sites/cbi.drupalconnect.com/files/WTOP_9-12-12_meetingsummary_fnl.pdf