Op-Ed: Proposed wind energy rules no available for review

Op-Ed: Proposed wind energy rules no available for review

The draft Wind Energy Plan for Dukes County, released for public comment last week, looks at the wide range of issues related to wind energy development on land and off shore in state and federal waters. It was prepared by the staff of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in cooperation with a Work Group made up of representatives of all seven towns of Dukes County, the Tribe and Island organizations. The Work Group is seeking feedback from town boards, organizations and members of the public before the plan is finalized this fall.

A lot has changed with respect to wind energy development on and around Martha’s Vineyard since the Work Group started looking at the issue in 2009 when the Island towns nominated, and the MVC designated, most of the Island and all municipal waters as the Island Wind District of Critical Planning Concern.

On land, a medium-sized turbine has been erected at Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown and two more have been approved in Chilmark (on Grey Barn and Allen farms) while large wind turbine projects were halted in the towns of Edgartown, Tisbury, and West Tisbury.

Offshore, the Cape Wind project has gotten all its permits but is still facing legal challenges and its financing is apparently not yet finalized. The federal government is working actively on two areas, both located more than12 nautical miles offshore, namely the so-called Area of Mutual Concern (AMI) involving Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and a vast area under consideration south of Martha’s Vineyard. The Commonwealth’s 2009 plan for two large Wind Energy Areas, with a capacity of about 160 turbines just off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, is still on the books, though no one appears to be actively pursuing wind projects there.

Off-Island, several utility scale turbines in Falmouth and Vinalhaven, Maine, became operational in 2009 and 2010 and produced noise, flicker, and other impacts considerably greater than anticipated. Voters in four Cape Cod towns that had been working for many years on municipal turbine projects subsequently turned down these projects. In Europe, which has decades of experience with offshore wind farms, the distance offshore for new wind farms has been steadily growing, from about 10 km in 2008, to 14 km in 2009, to 30 km for farms under construction in 2010, according to the European Wind Energy Association.

The Wind Energy Plan for Dukes County is an effort facilitated by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to help the community deal with the potential and challenges of wind energy. The plan looks at a wide variety of topics, including birds and bats, scenic resources and visual impacts, tribal and other cultural resources, open space and habitat, marine mammals, fishing, navigation and boating, safety, noise and vibration, shadow flicker, electromagnetic interference, construction, operation and maintenance, decommissioning, impacts on business and employment, property values and municipal taxes, and community benefits.

The Wind Energy Plan will serve several functions:

It is an important component of the Island Wind DCPC and will be the basis for the MVC evaluating whether proposed town regulations are consistent with the Island Wind DCPC guidelines. It recommends how the MVC DRI Checklist might be changed regarding wind energy projects that would be reviewed as Developments of Regional Impact and it provides the framework for MVC evaluation of wind energy DRIs.It defines “appropriate scale” as required by the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan for determining what wind energy development is acceptable in state waters. It includes a wealth of information that can be used by towns in formulating their own regulations or reviewing applications for wind turbines. It encompasses data and analysis of adjacent federal waters, which can help the Vineyard and Gosnold communities understand and formulate positions on planning and development outside but in the vicinity of Dukes County.

The plan aims to allow for reasonable wind energy development while minimizing potentially detrimental impacts on natural resources and human uses, by proposing policies for where wind turbines may be allowed, where they should be subject to special review, and what standards should apply.

The plan proposes what it calls “a cautious, balanced approach,” holding off on development in areas that might be problematic and proposing conservative siting and design criteria. The approach proposed in the plan would allow development of wind energy projects in locations and with standards that minimize the risk to the natural environment and to human uses. The plan proposes “Exclusionary Areas” where turbines would be prohibited (about 40% of the land area), “Areas of Special Concern” where they would be allowed subject to special review by the MVC and towns (about 50% of the land area), and, on land, “Qualified Areas” where turbines under 150-feet high would not need MVC review but would be regulated as determined by the individual town (about 10%).

Even with this careful approach, it would appear that there is the potential for a vast amount of wind energy development in the area around Dukes County, mainly offshore in federal waters. These projects should be carefully monitored. If the impacts turn out to be no worse than expected, it would then be possible to revise the Wind Energy Plan in several years to allow development in locations which are excluded in this version of the Plan

There are two fundamental options regarding possible offshore wind energy development in Dukes County upon which public opinion is especially sought.

Option 1 would allow development in relatively limited Areas of Special Concern. Option 2 would hold off on short-term development within the waters of Dukes County to allow review of the progress of wind energy development in federal waters, including the results of associated research, before considering large-scale development closer to shore. This option considers that if all the development under consideration in federal areas surrounding Dukes County takes place, it could be argued that the resulting cumulative impact on Martha’s Vineyard will be such that no additional development would be acceptable. This position would remain in effect for the duration of this version of the Plan, expected to be 5 to 7 years, though the Plan could be revised sooner if there is a compelling reason. No one has expressed any interest in developing in these near-shore waters and the Commonwealth and federal officials are concentrating their efforts more than 12 nautical miles offshore.

The draft Wind Energy Plan can be downloaded from the Island Plan website, www.islandplan.org, or you can get a paper copy by contacting the MVC. A public informational meeting about the draft plan will be scheduled later in the summer. For further information, please contact the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Doug Sederholm is chairman of the Wind Energy Plan Work Group and a Martha’s Vineyard Commission member from Chilmark. Mark London is executive director of the commission.

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