The Martha’s Vineyard Commission is specifically excluded from any role in deciding whether or not commercial-scale wind power could be developed in the waters off the Elizabeth Islands, under the final version of the state’s controversial Ocean Management Plan, released this week.
That exclusion raises the prospect that scores of turbines, each more than 400 feet tall, could be constructed only a few miles west of Aquinnah, without regard to regulations developed by the MVC and the six Vineyard towns.
The plan, intended as a comprehensive planning document to lay out the future uses of all Massachusetts waters — those up to three miles offshore — sets aside just two Wind Energy Areas in the state for development. One is on the far side of Noman’s Land, which falls within the town of Chilmark, and the other off the southern end of the Elizabeth Islands.
Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan
Volume 1 – Management and Administration
Volume 2 – Baseline Assessment and Science Framework
Together, the two areas could accommodate as many as 166 turbines, generating enough electricity to power some 200,000 homes. That would make it potentially 25 per cent larger in the number of turbines, and 50 per cent larger in power output than the Cape Wind project.
The selectmen of Gosnold, the Elizabeth Islands town, in a submission to the state expressed qualified support for the idea of a major wind farm in the ocean within their town boundaries.
In sharp contrast, Vineyard towns have been resistant to the idea of large-scale wind farming in waters near the Island, and the MVC voted without dissent in November to designate the waters within three miles of the Island’s coast as a district of critical planning concern, thus cementing a year-long moratorium on wind farms, while rules are developed.
Island representatives also lobbied hard to have the state plan changed to give the MVC final say in approving or denying wind power proposals in Island waters, and in this they were successful.
Under the terms of an agreement reached between the state Secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, and state Sen. Robert O’Leary and Representative Tim Madden, the final version of the plan provides that the commission would have the power to determine the “appropriate scale” for any development.
The final document says: “For the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, this includes the waters of the municipalities of Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and West Tisbury.”
However, it continues: “This Ocean Management Plan does not authorize the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to define the appropriate scale of any wind energy or other project in the Gosnold Wind Energy Area, whether or not the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has jurisdiction over that area pursuant to its enabling act.”
The mention of the MVC’s enabling act highlights a possible point of contention between the MVC and the Gosnold selectmen. The legislation gives the commission regulatory power over all of Dukes County, with the exception of tribal lands in Aquinnah, state-owned land, and the Elizabeth Islands.
But does that include the waters surrounding the Elizabeth Islands? Legal advice to the commission holds that it has regulatory power over them; Gosnold argues that the commission does not.
And in their letter to the state, the Gosnold selectmen strongly opposed the idea of “any commission making decisions for us.”
Speaking to the Gazette on Tuesday, Secretary Bowles said the wording of the final Ocean Plan simply reflected what the two communities — the Vineyard and Gosnold — wanted.
“The plan grants an authority to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission that it did not have itself as to the ability to define the appropriate scale of any commercial wind development in the Noman’s Land area,” he said.
“And we had a letter from the town of Gosnold saying they were supportive, with some conditions, of looking at a commercial wind project in the waters adjacent to their town.
“The town of Gosnold did not ask to have any added jurisdiction granted to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Gosnold said they would not like any additional jurisdiction.
“And the commission did not request from me any added jurisdiction relative to Gosnold. So I consider the matter settled as to the Ocean Plan.”
As to the claim that the MVC’s powers extend to waters around Gosnold, he said he would not debate the extent of jurisdiction under its enabling act.
“It’s not the job of me or my office to issue legal opinions, so that’s something that will have to be taken up with the attorney general or the courts,” Mr. Bowles said.
But he indicated his department would now begin consultation directly with Gosnold on “the broad outlines of a potential project,” cutting the MVC out of negotiations.
Asked if that meant he had given up on the prospect of major wind power generation being approved by the MVC and Island towns, he responded obliquely.
“Martha’s Vineyard today is powered by the oil-fired canal power plant. And Martha’s Vineyard has enunciated a strong desire to move away from the environmentally-destructive power sources that power it today, and enunciated very strong municipal goals.
“The Martha’s Vineyard Commission came to us and said, ‘We would like to take a leadership position on the development of offshore wind in and around our members’ towns, please give us that opportunity.’
“And we said, ‘Fine, go to it.’
“I have the full expectation they will take up this challenge that is not only environmental but economic and moral. That’s something they’ve already taken on in the district of critical planning concern process they’ve launched.
“They asked for the ball; they have it now,” Mr. Bowles concluded.
The commission now is working to ensure it remains in the game as far as Gosnold is concerned.
MVC executive director Mark London said while the people of Gosnold did not want the commission making decisions for them, they were amenable to consultation.
“Currently we’re concerned about what happens on both [the Gosnold and Noman’s Land] sites, and we look forward to working with the people of Gosnold on that,” he said.
“In discussions I’ve had with them they’ve expressed an interest in cooperating on analysis and planning.
“I think it would be useful for us to analyze it for the whole county. How it gets applied to the seventh town is a matter for them.
“There’s a lot of emotion on these issues — not just here, but everywhere — and I’m interested in looking to analyze the issues in a more dispassionate way,” Mr. London said.
The process will begin with a meeting beginning at 5.30 this Thursday, probably at the West Tisbury public safety building. Mr. London said he expects representatives of all the Vineyard towns to attend, and has invited Gosnold representatives too. He had not heard back from them yet.
“They usually have some difficulty getting across,” Mr. London said.
Among other changes between the draft and final Ocean Plans, the number of turbines which could be built to serve community, as opposed to commercial purposes, was increased to 17.
That accords with the number the Island’s nascent power cooperative, Vineyard Power, estimates would be needed to meet all the Vineyard’s electricity needs.
Mr. London said he is happy with that change, but he said it was not a direct response to Vineyard Power’s calculations.
“Coincidentally it just happened to come out to the same number that the Vineyard Power people had calculated. The regional planning agencies sat down and tried to come up with a formula for allocating community wind projects and it turned out we got an allocation of 17,” he said.
He also noted the Vineyard power cooperative was not proposing a specific location for the 17 turbines.
“They’re just as happy if they are in federal waters, beyond the horizon, if that could be made to work,” he said, concluding:
“But it does suggest that if there is a project off Noman’s . . . 17 of those could be community turbines. And people elsewhere have found there’s more support for community projects.”
by Mike Seccombe