Island Wind District kept aloft by Martha’s Vineyard Commission

A wind turbine at Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown measures 150 feet high, from its base to the tip of a turbine blade at its highest point.
File photo by Steve Myrick

A wind turbine at Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown measures 150 feet high, from its base to the tip of a turbine blade at its highest point.

Under new regulations unanimously approved by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on November 3, no wind energy facility will be permitted in the Island Wind District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) designated in 2009 without the commission’s approval as a development of regional impact (DRI).

The Island Wind DCPC includes a land zone and an ocean zone. The district includes the airspace above elevation 220 feet in the ocean zone and above 150 feet in the land zone.

The land zone does not include school buildings and grounds, the lands and inland waters within the town of Edgartown, the Elizabeth Islands, and certain Indian lands. The ocean zone encompasses Island waters out to the 3-mile limit of the towns’ jurisdiction.

Once the Island Wind District was designated, a development moratorium went into effect on any projects within its boundaries.

DCPC coordinator Jo-Ann Taylor explained at the hearing it was important that the MVC take action to adopt new interim regulations for the Island Wind District because previous ones would expire November 3 under a “sunset” clause and the DCPC would be void.

After the Island Wind District’s creation in 2009, the goal was for the Island towns to produce regulations to govern the district, she said. In 2010, the MVC adopted interim regulations defined to expire under after either a year or after the adoption of town regulations.

Although the MVC drafted model regulations, Ms. Taylor said by the time a year had come and gone, the towns had not followed suit and adopted their own regulations.

“There is a little bit of momentum that has been lost on this, just because of economic conditions, because it’s generally agreed that there is not going to be large-scale commercial wind development any time soon,” Ms. Taylor said. “But we find that’s the best time to do your planning, not when you’re in the crisis mode. So we talked to the towns, and the towns agreed that they did not want to let the DCPC just expire and go away.”

Ms. Taylor said the best solution would be to extend the interim regulations for another two years in order to get through another town meeting season, to finalize the Island’s wind energy plan, and to actually have all the town regulations in place.

The new interim regulations, one for each town, also would include a sunset clause to remain in effect until a town meeting vote and the commission’s conformance vote, or to expire after two years.

Ms. Taylor said the towns were prepared for the extension and as far as she knew, all were in favor of it.

In discussion before the vote, Bill Bennett of Chilmark asked why the height limits for the ocean zone and land zone both weren’t the same.

“I think the thought when this was originally done was that it was extremely unlikely anyone would build an ocean zone wind turbine that was less than 220 feet,” Land Use Planning Committee chairman Doug Sederholm, who ran the hearing, explained.

Mr. Bennett pointed out that under the interim regulations, someone could put up a 210-foot wind turbine tower in 20 feet of water.

Ms. Taylor, however, reminded everyone that any development in ocean waters triggers an automatic referral to the MVC under the DRI checklist.

“So in a way, you could say this is more than double suspenders for that; we don’t even need the ocean zone,” Mr. Sederholm added.

Given that a big wind turbine recently went up in Edgartown, Mr. Bennett said, perhaps the commissioners should consider revising the height limit so that the land and ocean zones were the same in the new interim regulations.

Ms. Taylor said changing the DCPC’s boundaries would require notice and a separate public hearing. She suggested that change would be something to consider making after the towns finalized their regulations.

“It’s also important to point out that there are two other wind turbines that have been approved and have building permits in the town of Chilmark on farms, both of which are right under 150 feet, so that if there are people who believe that such turbines should be referred to us as a DRI, that would be something to have a discussion about,” Mr. Sederholm said.

“We need to have the protection of a DCPC and if we don’t do it tonight, there won’t be one after tomorrow,” he added.

“I would add to that, regardless of what these regulations say or even what the DRI checklist says, any community can always refer a project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission if the community has concerns that it will have negative regional impact,” said commissioner Linda Sibley, who has a wind turbine at her West Tisbury residence. “So we can sort of assume that in the towns that have been referenced, that the permitting boards were perfectly comfortable with what they were permitting.”

Mr. Sederholm also serves as chairman of the Dukes County Wind Energy Plan Work Group, facilitated by the MVC. He noted that the towns already have a 17-page draft model regulation put together by the work group for use in adopting their own regulations.