Cronig’s solar canopy draws little comment at MVC

A photo illustration of the solar canopies. — Photo courtesy of South Mountain Company

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) has issued a “last call” for public comments on a proposal to erect canopies topped with 12,200 square feet of solar panels in the parking lot at Cronig’s Market on State Road in Vineyard Haven.

A public hearing Thursday to review the project as a development of regional impact attracted one Tisbury resident. The MVC received no correspondence from town boards or the public about the project.

Meeting chairman Doug Sederholm of Chilmark closed the hearing to public testimony but kept the written record open until noon Monday, February 6, to make an opportunity for the usually vocal Island community to submit written or emailed comments.

The only comment came from Bill Straw, who identified himself as a solar installer who had previously worked in New Jersey. He represents Fullers Energy, a New Jersey based company.

“As a resident of Tisbury, I’m not pleased to see this kind of design going in,” Mr. Straw said. “It kind of reminds me of Ft. Lauderdale, and I don’t think it fits the nature of the Vineyard.”

Mr. Straw, Tisbury’s representative to the Cape Light Compact and Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, added that he favors solar projects, just not at that location.

Commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, who owns a Radio Shack franchise in a building adjacent to the parking lot, said she is concerned about the lack of comment.

“There certainly does not seem to be an outbreak of public concern over this project, but I’m curious whether people are really paying a lot of attention,” Ms. Sibley said.

Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier and the Vineyard Power (VP) electric cooperative are the co-applicants for the project, with South Mountain Company (SMC) president John Abrams and designer Derrill Bazzy the agents and installers. Vineyard Power Solar, a subsidiary of VP, will lease the Cronig’s location and own the solar array.

Ms. Sibley suggested that if the applicants were not in a rush, it might be helpful to wait on a decision on the project until more Islanders had an opportunity to view the MVTV video of the hearing.

“In case people are worried about the Fort Lauderdale effect?” Mr. Sederholm asked her in jest.

“They’re definitely not something we’re used to here on the Vineyard; I guess I would put it that way,” Ms. Sibley said, with a laugh.

“So, is it the case that in fact it’s a brave new world and we’re going to get used to seeing a lot of this, and that we’re going to get used to wind turbines and this kind of thing, because it’s just the way the future has to be?” she added. “But at the same time, given how intensely people have reacted to the roundabout as being kind of like a foreign object in our midst, I don’t know.”

Commissioner Bill Bennett of Chilmark, an electrician, said he didn’t see a need to extend the hearing. “It seems to me that we abided by all the public notice laws and the deadlines, and there was a big article in the paper, so if anybody was going to oppose this thing, they would have come tonight.”

Mr. Abrams said South Mountain has an absolute deadline for completing the project. “As Bill said, this has been publicized,” he told the commisioners. “To wait around for opposition, to me, is a little rough.

“Or support,” Ms. Sibley added.

“We don’t need support, we need to be ripping up pavement very soon,” Mr. Abrams said.

At the beginning of the hearing, the commissioners raised what could have been a short circuit. Eleven of the 13 commissioners or their direct family members belong to the Vineyard Power cooperative.

Mr. Sederholm, a lawyer, said the commissioners could proceed based on the “rule of necessity,” that allows a board to act when a majority is in a conflict situation and would otherwise be unable to act.

Plans call for the installation of three “Solaire” solar canopies above the existing Cronig’s parking lot. They are expected to generate an estimated 250,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity a year.

The project would be constructed in two phases, with first the two canopies, approximately 100 feet long, planned in the Healthy Additions parking lot this spring and another 135-foot canopy in the lot in front of Cronig’s near State Road next fall.

The height of the V-shaped canopies would range from about 13 feet on the low side to 18 feet high at the tallest point. The canopy poles also will be equipped with six charging units for electric cars.

Solar charge

The Cronig’s project is one of several public and private solar energy projects on Martha’s Vineyard moving forward quickly through state and local regulatory boards.

In most cases, the energy the panels produces does not flow directly to the host, for example Vineyard Power, and later, under the terms of the lease agreement, Cronig’s. The savings come in the form of a credit from the utility company. Later, Vineyard Power will get a credit roughly equal to the retail price of energy, that it can use to offset its electric bills.

Power produced by the solar arrays goes directly into the regional electric grid, along with energy generated by oil, coal, natural gas, hydro, and nuclear plants. Federal and state laws require power companies to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources. Power companies purchase power from various sources to meet the requirements.

The MVC will accept written comments emailed to or mailed to P.O. Box 1447, Oak Bluffs MA 02557 until noon on February 6.

If no comments are received that raise further issues, the commission’s land use planning committee will meet Monday for a post-public hearing review. The full commission is expected to close the public hearing on Thursday, February 9, and vote on the project that night.