It’s a matter of deciding which way the wind blows, and where to put turbines in its path. Although that sounds like a simple concept, a draft wind energy siting plan for Dukes County is anything but. The document already is 48 pages long, and that’s before the work group that will help develop it meets for the first time tonight.

The meeting takes place from 5-6:30 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) building in Oak Bluffs.

“Communities everywhere are experiencing a flourish of planning and proposals for wind energy facilities,” MVC chairman Christina Brown and executive Mark London wrote in an email announcing the meeting. “It is our intent that a work group including representatives of the county’s principal constituencies prioritize the wind facility siting factors that are important to our community. In this way we can realize the opportunities and benefits of wind energy in a manner that does not unreasonably diminish other community values.”

The MVC invited boards of selectmen, the Dukes County commissioners, the Wampanoag Tribal Council, and Island town planning boards and energy committees to appoint representatives to the work group.[mappress]

For many in the work group, tonight’s meeting will be a continuation of a discussion that began at an MVC workshop on January 14, held at the West Tisbury emergency management building.

The purpose of the workshop was to begin gathering and organizing information to develop a siting plan.

About 50 people attended, including a dozen MVC commissioners, selectmen from West Tisbury and Chilmark, planning board members from several towns, and conservation organization representatives.

After a lengthy discussion session, Ms. Brown concluded the meeting by suggesting that a group should be formed to continue work on the siting plan.

In the meantime, a few days before the workshop, the MVC staff had completed a draft working document for the siting plan.

It was financed in part by the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Resources, District Local Technical Assistance. The draft siting plan deals with land-based and offshore wind energy facilities, especially those that would have a regional impact. The plan’s introduction says it also will address the MVC’s role in determining what constitutes appropriate scale wind energy facilities in the waters of Dukes County in accordance with the state’s Ocean Management Plan.

The Ocean Plan identifies two areas in state waters for commercial development of utility-scale wind-generated renewable energy projects, both in Dukes County waters.

As the siting plan explains, the Commonwealth intends to adopt the Wind Energy Facilities Siting Reform Act, which would streamline the approval process for large-scale wind turbines throughout Massachusetts.

The original proposal would have allowed the state’s energy facilities siting board to override an MVC or town decision to condition or deny a wind energy facility of more than 2 megawatts.

The draft siting plan notes that as a result of discussions with state and local elected officials and the MVC, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles agreed that in the final version of the Ocean Plan, regional planning agencies such as the MVC would determine what type of development is acceptable.

Once completed, the Dukes County siting plan would be useful in several applications.

The MVC has a checklist of criteria for determining whether a project will require review by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI). Right now, wind turbines are not on it, so the siting plan would be instrumental in revising the MVC’s DRI checklist.

Since there is no standard Island-wide town bylaw regarding wind turbines on Martha’s Vineyard, the siting plan also is intended to serve as a guide for Island towns, whether in reviewing applications for wind turbines under existing regulations, evaluating regulations that pertain to larger turbines, or formulating new regulations for districts of critical planning concern (DCPC).

The MVC voted last fall to accept nominations to create an Island wind DCPC for the airspace above most of the lands and waters under its regulatory jurisdiction.

According to the MVC, the purpose of the DCPC is to provide a framework to regulate large-scale wind turbine development. The six towns will propose regulations for the new Island wind district in conformance with the MVC’s guidelines for development.

Factors to consider in siting wind turbines account for many pages in the draft plan. They include a wide range, from subjective topics such as scenic values, visual impact, and cultural values, to quantifiable elements such as noise and vibration and shadow flicker from blade movement.

Other factors include physical constraints of potential sites such as wind availability and access, construction and decommissioning, and operation and maintenance.

Given the Island community’s interest and concern about wind turbine projects, the MVC and towns will be seeking public comment during the process of developing the siting plan.

by Janet Hefler