With wind energy proposals focused on the Vineyard and surrounding waters and the high concentration of wind resources, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission continued public hearings last week on its Wind Energy Plan for Dukes County, which attempts to set some controls on future wind turbine developments on land and sea. The plan drew few public comments last Thursday, though some noted the document is protective of Vineyard land and water.
The plan, the last draft of which was released in September, was created by a wind energy work group with the collaboration of all six Vineyard towns plus Gosnold, and “attempts to balance the desirability of allowing renewable energy in appropriate places with appropriate guidance with the other values the commission is dedicated to protect,” MVC executive director Mark London said.
Mr. London said the Vineyard is the location on the eastern part of the United States with the highest concentration of wind resources, which are strongest offshore to the south of the Island.
He said the plan isn’t about whether wind energy is good or bad, but rather about how the Vineyard should deal with developments.
The 155-page report, first released last summer, is described as a “balanced, cautious approach.” On land, it designates three areas: exclusionary zones, where there could be no turbines; areas of special concern, where turbines would be avoided, minimized, or mitigated and would require a mandatory MVC review and/or a special permit; and qualified areas, where there would be town review only for turbines shorter than 150 feet, with some exceptions.
The plan said that 40 per cent of the Vineyard’s land would be exclusionary, 50 per cent would be areas of special concern, and 10 per cent would be qualified areas. An accompanying map of the Vineyard shows small patches of qualified areas, with coastal land and the state forest designated as exclusionary areas.
Offshore areas are divided into two categories: exclusionary areas and areas of special concern. For ocean areas belonging to Vineyard towns, 95 per cent would be exclusionary and five per cent would be areas of special concern. A map of offshore zones shows that all waters immediately off the Vineyard would be exclusionary zones, with a swath of the Atlantic Ocean south of the Island designated an area of special concern. (The commission’s authority extends three miles offshore.)
The plan also calls for model regulations for an Islandwide wind district of critical planning concern, which would provide a basis for town regulations. The current DCPC is set at 150 feet or above on land, though the new plan could be amended to bring district down to the ground.
Commissioner Doug Sederholm, who chaired the public hearing, said the wind energy plan originated when the state decided to develop a wind energy initiative and identified two areas as commercially appropriate for offshore wind energy: one off Gosnold and the other off Martha’s Vineyard. This got people’s attention, he said, and the commission lobbied for input over the wind plans, ending up with “quasi-veto power” to determine if the wind projects were of appropriate scale.
As the plan points out, the state’s Ocean Management Plan designated two wind energy areas, which would allow about 160 turbines, both in waters of Dukes County. One was south of Noman’s and the other south of Cuttyhunk. The state also proposed an act that would allow the commonwealth to preempt any local authorities in authorizing land-based, utility-scale wind facilities.
“If the Martha’s Vineyard Commission finds that they are not of appropriate scale, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission can deny the project; that is the only true local control we have over offshore wind in these areas,” Mr. Sederholm said. “Otherwise the state can basically approve it and that will be that, but there’s also a considerable amount of concern . . . about the development of wind energy on Martha’s Vineyard, on land, and what’s appropriate given our tourist economy and given the natural beauty and unique resources that we have here and that we’re all trying to protect.”
“It’s definitely a very protective document,” said Gary Harcourt, who installs wind turbines on the Island and around the world with his company, Great Rock Windpower. He pointed out that most of his work is done in other countries that have more “progressive” approaches to wind energy, and said the various studies suggested by the wind plan, like a sound study and flicker study, would be prohibitive for smaller-scale turbines.
Mr. Harcourt was one of the three people who spoke, all in favor of wind energy. He pointed out “my personal belief not as a businessman but as an Islander, having always wanted to see us move in what I think is the right direction to keep our Island air clean and to keep our energy local.”
On the other hand, the commission received a letter from Barbara Schlesinger, a resident of Chilmark and Malvern, Pa., who wrote that “there are no meaningful, concrete measures to protect people and their enjoyment of their property from potentially negative consequences.”
Ms. Schlesinger said she lives near the Allen Farm wind turbine, and the motion of the turbine blades “constantly in our sight, has driven us away. This is a negative affect upon personal health, use and enjoyment of property that this draft does not even mention,” she wrote.
Commissioners only briefly discussed the plan. “The plan is the plan for now, anything we do is subject to modification in the future,” Mr. Sederholm said.
“We’re starting with a conservative approach,” Mr. London said. “The worst thing, even for proponents, is to have projects that turn out to be problematic,” he added, saying projects that foster negative public feedback might be worse than having requirements that are on the restrictive side.
“I certainly appreciate and support the intent of the regulations,” said Paul Pimentel, chairman of the board for Vineyard Power. But “we seek clarity and certainty so we can make investments and go forward with some sense that the ground’s not going to shift.” He said it would be “good if we had some sense that it wasn’t all on sand and not going to change because of something that we can’t see coming.”
As of now, the plan calls for updating every five to seven years.
“I think it’s great to start with sort of stricter rules, but I would be more comfortable if we would at least open it up for consideration in two years,” commissioner Katherine Newman said.
The commission will discuss and potentially vote on the wind energy plan at their meeting scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 18.
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