MV Times, on December 17th, 2009

Wind Energy, a Political Maelstrom: Editorial

Believing they have achieved some success in winning concessions from the state that will allow the Vineyard to exercise some control over large wind-energy installations planned near the Vineyard shore, Island critics of the state’s Oceans Plan have turned their attention to the Elizabeth Islands, which together form Gosnold, one of the seven Dukes County towns. (See J. B. Riggs Parker’s OpEd essay across the way.)

Cuttyhunk, the westernmost of the Elizabeth Islands, just a few miles north across Vineyard Sound, is the municipal center of Gosnold. The state has identified the tide-wracked, rock-strewn waters west of Cuttyhunk as a likely spot for a wind farm of commercial proportions.

The members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, who seem to favor near shore wind generation, have been advised by their counsel that while MVC jurisdiction over Gosnold development on land is precluded by the commission’s enabling legislation, the commission’s regulatory jurisdiction does extend to the waters along the shores of the Elizabeth Islands, including Vineyard Sound, Buzzards Bay, and Woods Hole. On the face of it, and having in mind the legislative history of Chapter 831, the MVC legislation of 1974, the assertion seems counter intuitive. Ultimately, arguable as counsel’s view certainly is, perhaps a court will decide the question.

Cuttyhunkers have always wanted nothing to do with MVC regulation, a view in which this small but determined band has persisted since the early 1970s, when the rest of the state was determined to beat back Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s Nantucket Sound Islands Trust federal takeover by interposing the super-zoning regulatory powers of the MVC. Cuttyhunkers said hands off then, and they’ve said hands off ceaselessly since. Due to their opposition and the obvious geographic hurdles, the state in 1974 agreed that Gosnold and Cuttyhunk would not be regulated by the county’s new development overseer.

But, while Cuttyhunkers are stand offish about the MVC, most of them appear to want the benefits of electric power generated by wind turbines near their island. The power Cuttyhunkers use today is produced by diesel-fueled generators, like the ones on the Vineyard for backup power. The town of Cuttyhunk maintains the generators. They break down, they’re expensive to maintain, diesel fuel is expensive, and generators use a lot of it. The fuel must be shipped from New Bedford or Providence or sometimes the Vineyard by small barge loads. The weather intervenes. All in all, it’s a troublesome and costly system. Winter demand is small, but in the summer demand picks up dramatically, and the generators guzzle fuel. The state’s promise that the communities affected by near-shore commercial wind energy will share in the benefits, means lower power costs to Gosnold residents. It’s a powerful incentive.

Nevertheless, Cuttyhunkers, certain that they want to rule out MVC regulatory control of their future power generation possibilities, are not so certain they will be able, acting on their own, to have their way with the state juggernaut behind the Oceans Plan, which is to be adopted and in place by the end of the year. The small island’s leadership is properly cautious, as are the leaders of the Vineyard effort to get a firm grip on near shore wind. Extending a hand across the sound, the Vineyard forces clamoring for local control – the ad hoc group Let Vineyarders Decide is an example – have pointed out to the Cuttyhunkers that although the state has said yes to an important few of the Vineyard’s demands, none of the concessions has been enshrined in law. That must be done by the legislature, not the executive branch, with which Vineyarders have been negotiating. And once such issues plunge into the tide-wracked and rock-strewn waters of the legislature, anything, including the worst, is possible.

There is certainly reason for the Vineyard and Gosnold to consider the possibility of a united front. But, the political currents run strong and often at cross purposes. Make no mistake, Cuttyhunkers are prepared to see wind turbines, in significant numbers, to the west where there once was only storm-tossed, fishy Sow and Pigs. Vineyarders, especially those unhappy about visible wind energy factories alongshore and leading the charge for Vineyard and MVC authority over the installation of near shore wind factories, don’t want to look at turbines whirling and blinking off the Vineyard shore, or west of Cuttyhunk for that matter. And, at the third point of the political triangle, although members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission have been the beneficiaries of the efforts to bring the state to heel on near shore wind development control, as evidenced by their Island Plan, the commission views wind turbines enthusiastically. It’s a rich, uncertain brew.

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