WEST TISBURY – Marnie Stanton worries about global warming.
“Climate change is a huge issue, and Mother Nature is always batting last. If we don’t clean up our act fast, we’ll be underwater,” said Stanton, coordinator for the Vineyard Conservation Society’s online almanac.
Founded in 1965, the local group has led the fight on many of the island’s battles over land development and prides itself on providing environmental education to islanders.
But, like many other island environmental groups, the Vineyard Conservation Society remains silent on whether to endorse the region’s most controversial development project of the past seven years: Cape Wind’s proposed wind farm.
The group has remained neutral despite being “very pro-wind,” according to Stanton.
“Our membership is deeply divided (on Cape Wind),” said Kaysea Cole, the society’s communication director. Cole gave testimony on Cape Wind at last night’s U.S. Minerals Management Service public hearing. She called on the federal agency to make sure fees paid to the state by Cape Wind would promote energy conservation programs for the Cape and Islands.
Matt Pelikan, director of island programs for The Nature Conservancy, said his group approaches charged debates cautiously. “We avoid taking positions on highly controversial issues unless there is a clear reason to do so,” he said.
“In general, we support alternative energy,” Pelikan said, adding The Nature Conservancy’s primary mission is to support unbroken habitat and undisturbed ecological systems.
He admitted that mission stands in direct conflict with large projects like Cape Wind. “One conclusion that might come from that is that (New England) might not be a part of the country for extensive industrial-sized projects,” Pelikan said.
Bill Veno, a senior planner at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, said wind farms are good in principle but require planning. Three years ago, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission decided against supporting Cape Wind unless there was a comprehensive ocean zoning plan in place.
The Martha’s Vineyard Commission doesn’t plan to testify during this round of federal public hearings. However, the local agency requested a time extension on the deadline for written comments, Veno said.
A 2007 Martha’s Vineyard Commission energy report cites potential harm to islanders’ quality of life from sea level rise, global warming, and rising energy costs that contribute to a high cost of living. As part of their strategy, the local agency’s Energy and Waste Group proposed taking advantage of the island’s most plentiful energy source: wind power. Veno said every town except Chilmark is actively pursuing the installation of a municipal wind turbine.
At least one commission member favors Cape Wind.
“We will not solve our energy problems on a town-by-town basis,” said Peter Cabana, a commission member who believes Cape Wind is a necessary first step in reducing the region’s reliance on fossil fuels and obtaining cheaper energy. Cabana, who also serves as the commission’s representative to the Cape Light Compact, believes penalties assessed to fossil fuel power generating plants for mercury and carbon dioxide emissions will ultimately drive up their cost of electricity and make wind power more affordable. He added the dramatic difference between the amount of power generated by turbines located on water compared with land turbines makes Cape Wind an attractive project.
“Offshore wind is the only one that can replace fossil fuels,” Cabana said.
Although he agrees on the need for renewable energy and the idea that wind turbines could provide a lot of power to islanders, Durwood “Woody” Vanderhoop, a planner for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), is uncomfortable with the Cape Wind project.
“I am conflicted. I want to see renewable energy happen, but I’m unsure about the way Cape Wind is happening,” he said.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head cultural and historic committee has voted against the Cape Wind project because it would alter the view of the rising sun.
“The issue is tied to our spirituality,” Vanderhoop said.
At the same time, Vanderhoop and the town of Aquinnah have requested that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission establish a District of Critical Planning Concern to encourage the development of land-based turbines and establish ground rules for reviewing and regulating wind turbine projects.
In their pursuit of wind power, Aquinnah and the tribe could face some of the same criticisms that dog Cape Wind.
“You’re never going to make everybody happy, but if we’re going to continue our consumptive practices, we’re going to have to make some decisions,” Vanderhoop said.
By Doug Fraser
13 March 2008
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