Falmouth officials: Turbine losses could total $12M
FALMOUTH — A battle-weary Board of Selectmen announced Monday that the town will not appeal last month’s ruling by a Barnstable Superior Court judge that a pair of 1.65-megawatt municipal wind turbines are a nuisance for neighbors and must be shut down.
Both turbine friends and foes were surprised by the announcement, expecting instead that the board would appeal.
Susan Moran, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said it was time to put an end to an issue that has caused a bitter rift in town.
But mending that tear in the community fabric may prove costly. Town Manager Julian Suso provided some estimates in an email to the Times Tuesday. State loans and commitments connected to Wind 1 — which was constructed in 2010 — total about $6.25 million. The loan on Wind 2 — constructed in 2011 — totals just under $4.9 million, with the possibility of interest tacked on. That Wind 2 loan would be forgiven if the turbine continued to operate.
Though there is not yet a firm cost estimate for dismantling and removing the wind machines, “it is likely in excess of $1 million,” Suso said.
The grand total is a $12.1 million plus any interest charged.
“No final decisions have been made as to specifically how these cost obligations will be met,” Suso said.
Town officials hope to get a financial break from the state on the loans.
“We are working with representatives from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust on the matter of financial obligations,” Suso said. “There is nothing specific to report on these negotiations which are ongoing.”
“I don’t know of any other cases, but there are unique conditions here,” attorney Christopher Senie said of Falmouth’s situation. “These turbines are just too close. As we engage in wind energy, we have to be careful of setbacks.”
While there are still a number of pending suits related to permitting of the turbines, Senie said those will likely “go away” in light of the selectmen’s decision not to appeal the recent Superior Court decision.
There will remain three cases, with 10 plaintiffs, seeking nuisance damages from the town. “This decision may also help us wrap up those cases,” Senie said. The maximum a municipality can be charged for damages is $100,000 per plaintiff, which would add about $1 million to the town’s turbine-related expenses.
Neil Andersen, one of the closest abutters to the turbines, said the seven-year battle with the town has left him exhausted.
“It’s a long time coming,” he said of the selectmen’s decision to keep the turbines shut down. “We’re happy, but it’s taken its toll.”
Turbine neighbor Barry Funfar said he’s almost hesitant to accept the announcement as a signal the fight is over. “We’ve been optimistic in the past, and then found out we had to fight some more,” he said.
The battle, at times, has been bitter. “One or two people had dead snakes thrown in their yard,” Funfar said. “There were personal affronts to me in letters to the newspaper.”
“I never dreamed that it would take seven years, but it’s been worth the fight,” he said. “The decision has restored my faith in the justice system.”
John Tudor, a member of the group Friends of Falmouth Wind, was unhappy with the selectmen’s decision not to appeal the ordered turbine shutdown and loss of green energy benefits.
“Falmouth is a community of science,” Tudor said. “I know it’s frustrating to deal with lawyers and courts and arguments with people, but we’re facing issues like global warming and sea level rising.”
Tudor also cited the pressure selectmen may feel when the loans for the turbines must be repaid. If they attempt to do it through a tax increase, it will need voter approval. “If the voters say no, then what are we going to do?” Tudor asked.
In a statement released Tuesday, Moran, on behalf of her board, said Falmouth continues to be a green energy leader, citing the solar farm operating on the town’s closed landfill.
(A ballot to fund a temporary tax increase to cover the cost of getting rid of the turbines was defeated in 2013.)
If the town appealed the recent court decision and won, it would simply return to Judge Cornelius Moriarty, who issued the ruling, for reconsideration, Moran said.
“This option leaves the town right where we have been for the last seven years — with uncertainly and mounting legal expenses,” Moran said.
John Carleton-Foss, an enthusiastic supporter of Wind 1 and 2, said the selectmen’s belief that the divisiveness will end with the shutdown of the turbines is “naïve.”
“I think it will continue to be divisive, and the act of the selectmen will be a further act of divisiveness,” he said. “But at the same time, I support the selectmen. We’ll do our best to move forward.”
— Follow Chris Legere on Twitter: @ChrisLegereCCT.