A shift in the Patrick administration’s wind energy development focus from state waters to federal waters came as welcome news last month to Islanders concerned about possible nearshore wind energy projects near Martha’s Vineyard.
The final version of the state’s Ocean Plan, released in January, designated only two wind energy areas suitable for commercial scale development in Massachusetts state waters. Both are in Dukes County waters. The area designated as the Gosnold Wind Energy area is west of Cuttyhunk Island. The other, designated as the Martha’s Vineyard Wind Energy Area, is south of Nomans Land, a part of Chilmark.
Deerin Babb-Brott, assistant secretary for ocean and coastal zone management in Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, representing Gov. Deval Patrick’s wind energy push, said the state does not plan to go back into those two wind energy areas to do more research work or propose development there.
Mr. Babb-Brott made his remarks during a public meeting at the regional high school on Sept. 16. He and Grover Fugate, executive director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, were there to discuss joint efforts between Massachusetts and Rhode Island in wind energy development. (“State turns wind energy eyes on R.I.,” MV Times, Sept. 23.)
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri signed a memorandum of understanding on July 26 in which they agreed both states would collaborate in the process to permit and develop offshore wind energy projects in a designated area of mutual interest (AMI) in federal waters. The 400-square-mile area in Rhode Island Sound begins 12 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard and extends 20 miles westward toward Block Island.
Last week, The Times asked several Islanders involved in local wind-planning efforts for their reactions.
“I’ve been hearing that many people favor the idea of concentrating on a single, potentially larger, wind farm located in federal waters well offshore, instead of building medium-sized wind farms in state waters,” Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) executive director Mark London wrote in an email to The Times. “It would appear that this would be a way to take advantage of stronger, steadier winds, and to minimize many potential impacts on birds, boating, fishing, scenic values, etc.”
MVC coastal planner Jo Ann Taylor served as a member of the state’s Ocean Advisory Commission, appointed by Governor Patrick to develop the Ocean Management Plan.
Regardless of the state’s lessened interest in the two commercial areas near Martha’s Vineyard, Ms. Taylor said, “We still need our own wind energy plan, because we could still develop up to 17 community turbines, and they can go anywhere in the multi-use area surrounding the Vineyard.”
MVC commissioner Doug Sederholm of Chilmark serves as chairman of the commission’s Wind Energy Plan Work Group, which has worked since March to develop a plan for Dukes County.
“I was encouraged that the Massachusetts state officials are focusing more on the area of mutual interest than they are on the two Massachusetts commercial wind areas,” Mr. Sederholm said. “I think they realize that they designated these areas under tremendous time pressure constraints because of statutory mandate and that the AMI may be a much preferable area to develop.”
Mr. Sederholm said he is not, however, suggesting the two commercial areas designated near Martha’s Vineyard are off the state’s table. “I don’t think we should let our guard down for a second,” he cautioned. “I do think we have to complete our work and be ready to plan and regulate wind development both on the Island and in the offshore areas in a way that is consistent with the values of the Island.”
Andrew Goldman of Chilmark is the director of POINT (Protect Our Islands Now for Tomorrow). The lobbying organization was formed last September to protest the state’s Ocean Management Plan for offshore industrial wind turbine development around Martha’s Vineyard.
Mr. Goldman remains skeptical about the state’s interest in the areas near Martha’s Vineyard. “We’re still vulnerable and we’re still at risk, and I think they should take it [the Ocean Plan] off the table altogether,” Mr. Goldman said.
Will the state’s change in focus to federal waters affect POINT’s lobbying plans?
“We used to have an Ocean Sanctuaries Act, we used to have a public trust doctrine for hundreds of years, we used to have a strong tradition in this state of local decision-making – how did we lose all this to a politically appointed energy facility siting board?” Mr. Goldman said. “I think maybe we can reclaim some of the environmental ground and decision-making ground that we’ve lost, and that will be our legislative focus this year.”
West Tisbury selectman Richard Knabel serves on the county’s wind energy work group and on a state wind energy task force. Although he did not attend last week’s meeting, he was familiar with Mr. Babb-Brott’s remarks.
“If Governor Patrick and the state actually do end up avoiding the two areas near Martha’s Vineyard and putting wind turbines in federal waters, it would be nice to have them further offshore,” Mr. Knabel said.
“If we’re still faced with the possibility of turbines within three miles and in prime fishing areas and in prime recreational waters near the Vineyard, particularly the entrances to Buzzard’s Bay and Vineyard Sound, that’s absolutely insane.”