Editorial: Huffing and puffing continues – no time to let up

We welcome the shift in the Patrick administration’s wind energy development focus from state waters to federal waters. (See “State turns wind energy eyes on R.I.,” MV Times, Sept. 23.)

But, as reactions reported this morning suggest, the welcome is, correctly, a wary one.

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. 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, southwest of Squibnocket.

Although representatives have said that Massachusetts does not plan to go back into the two near-shore wind-energy areas to do more research work or propose wind developments, this is not the moment to relax our efforts. Plus, the development of local rules for near-shore and onshore wind installations approaches its deadline.

The development of the Cape Wind turbine complex at Horseshoe Shoal occasioned passionate debate and worry among Vineyarders. Edgartown and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission moved unsuccessfully to intervene in the decision-making on Cape Wind. The commission, along with citizen lobbying efforts, has worked hard, with greater but not conclusive success, to intervene in the decision-making on the state’s Ocean Plan wind energy siting.

Today, especially along the shores of Chilmark, Aquinnah, and Gosnold, mankind’s presence over 1,000 years or so has not made much of a mark. Likewise empty Nomans Land, another of the 15 or so islands comprised by Dukes County’s realm.

Although we like to believe that mankind has had a profound and often deplorable effect upon the lands it inhabits, in fact this Island’s jurisdiction has been far more significantly affected by wind, tide, and weather than by humans. Still, as unmolested as these islands look from the deck of a small craft passing along the shore, that may change as wind turbines sprout. And, as enduring, unchanged, and indifferent as the surrounding sea appears as we watch from the shore, wind energy development may one day change all that.

Gov. Deval Patrick and Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri agreed on July 26, that the two states will collaborate to 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. It’s good news.

“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 a review of the collaboration. “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.” Exactly right.

But, as Doug Sederholm of Chilmark, chairman of the commission’s Wind Energy Plan Work Group, which will shortly deliver a wind energy plan for Dukes County, cautioned, “I don’t think we should let our guard down for a second. 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.”

And, as Andrew Goldman of Chilmark, director of the citizen group POINT (Protect Our Islands Now for Tomorrow), told Times writer Janet Hefler, “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? 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.”

Voters whose calculations of industrial wind, whether off or on Vineyard shores, conclude that the detriments outweigh the benefits will want to examine candidates for the state senate, the House of Representatives, and the Massachusetts governorship carefully. Two of the three offices will have fresh occupants. The third may also. The politicians who hold these offices will influence industrial wind development, which may figure importantly in the Vineyard’s economic and environmental future.