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Falmouth won’t ask voters to dismantle turbines

A Cape Cod town that celebrated the installation of its first wind turbine just three years ago nearly became the first community in the country to vote on spending millions of dollars to tear its turbines down.

Town Meeting rejected a measure Tuesday night that would have authorized a townwide vote on whether to borrow $14 million to dismantle two turbines.

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The measure failed 125 to 72, just a few votes short of the two-thirds majority Town Clerk Michael Palmer said it needed to pass. If it had been approved, the borrowing question would have been put before voters in a May referendum.

Kevin Murphy, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, flatly calls the turbine project a failure. The board is backing ­efforts to dismantle the original turbine, which began spinning in 2010, and a newer one.

From the start, neighbors have complained about noise from the turbines. They also attri­bute a range of physical and mental health problems to them.

But other residents report no problems. Some in town say it is far too soon to tear down a critical renewable energy project they estimate could produce $450,000 in annual revenue through energy production and renewable energy certificates.

‘‘It’s pitted neighbor against neighbor,’’ Murphy said.

The American Wind Energy Association, which says it promotes wind energy as a clean source of electricity, said it is the first time any town has considered taking down its turbines. That is because such projects have clear financial and environmental rewards, spokeswoman Ellen Carey said.

‘‘People across the country are supportive of wind energy and are benefiting economically,’’ she said.

Both turbines are built at the town’s waste-water treatment plant and provide power for it. The original turbine was the first municipal utility-scale turbine in Massachusetts.

Falmouth resident Mark Cool, who lives near the turbine site, said persistent headaches started as soon as it began running. He described some as being so penetrating that he felt he needed ‘‘to drill a hole in my head to get some sort of relief.’’

The 54-year-old air traffic controller did not link the turbines to his headaches until his neighbors began talking about similar symptoms.

Cool began a journal, recording variables such as wind direction and headache duration, eventually concluding that the headaches occurred only when the wind put him in a turbine’s wake.

In May 2012, 47 people told a board of health hearing about various problems they blamed on the turbines, including sleep deprivation, vertigo, and memory loss. But 15 others said they had had no problems.

Cool said he doesn’t think there is any hard science to substantiate negative effects from turbines. But in pushing for their removal, he points to what he said is indisputable, such as noise problems that led the town in May 2012 to shut the turbines down for 12 hours each night. A state study later concluded that the turbines’ decibel level was too high at one of its testing sites.

Murphy said the reduced hours mean the turbines now lose $100,000 a year.

Worse, he said, is the town division caused by the turbines, which he said taints any renewable energy plans. It is worth it, he said, to borrow the $14 million to get rid of what he calls symbols of failure.

Falmouth resident Megan Amsler said a silent majority in Falmouth wants to keep the turbines, but a vocal minority has made it something ­Falmouth cannot even agree to disagree about.

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