Martha’s Vineyard Commission concludes wind energy plan hearing

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.

A draft wind energy plan for Dukes County received comments from only three people at a public hearing held last week by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC). Their remarks included praise for the plan along with questions about its potential regulatory burden and review process.

With few words from the public, the commissioners began to meander into a general discussion of the plan. That prompted MVC commissioner Doug Sederholm of Chilmark, who ran the hearing as the Land Use Planning Committee chairman, to close the hour-long hearing to oral testimony. He kept the written record open until 5 pm yesterday, October 10. The commissioners’ deliberation and decision on the plan is set for their next meeting on October 18.

At the hearing’s start Mr. Sederholm noted that a great deal of work went into preparing the plan’s 155 pages and 4,760 lines of text. He played an important role in that process himself, as the chairman of the Wind Energy Plan Task Force work group that crafted the plan. The group included representatives of all seven Dukes County towns, the Wampanoag Tribe, and many Island organizations.

The MVC staff assisted in the work group’s efforts and provided a draft document for the group to use as a starting point at its first meeting in March 2010. The group met several times over the next year, and in July 2011, the MVC released a draft wind energy plan for Dukes County and held public information sessions to get feedback.

As MVC executive director Mark London explained at last week’s hearing, Martha’s Vineyard already has a designated Island-wide district of critical planning concern (DCPC) for any wind energy development on land, with the exception of Edgartown, and in the waters surrounding the Island out to three miles.

Mr. London said the purpose of the wind energy plan is to help administer the DCPC’s regulations and to identify what wind energy projects the MVC should review as developments of regional impact (DRI).

The draft plan deals with both land-based and offshore wind energy facilities, including wind turbines, ancillary equipment, access roads, and transmission lines. It addresses a wide range of topics, such as wind resources, scenic and cultural impacts, noise, recreational activities, natural resources, construction, operation and decommissioning. The plan also discusses the impact of wind turbines and proposes policies for siting decisions. It does not take a position on whether wind energy is good or bad, or on Federal policy.

Pros and cons

Before opening the hearing to testimony from public, Mr. Sederholm noted that the MVC received a letter from Barbara Schlesinger of Malvern, Penn., which is available on the commission’s website as part of the public record. She and her husband Ralph own a home in Chilmark near the Allen Farm, where a 149.5-foot wind turbine operates.

Since Ms. Schlesinger was unable to attend the hearing, Mr. Sederholm gave a brief summary of her letter. It outlined her objections to three specific sections in the wind energy plan that address the impact of wind turbines on surrounding property values, policies regarding shadow flicker, and performance standards for wind turbine noise.

“I have spent the summer in PA instead of on our once-lovely Chilmark property because the motion of the Allen Farm turbine blades, constantly in our sight, has driven us away,” Ms. Schlesinger wrote. “This is a negative affect [sic]upon personal health, use and enjoyment of property that this Draft does not even mention.”

Gary Harcourt, co-owner of Great Rock Wind Power, an Island-based small wind energy consulting and installation business, was the first to offer public comment. He said one of his concerns is the economic impact of the energy plan’s regulations on smaller wind turbine projects, which the industry defines as producing less than 100 kilo-watts of power.

“The impact that these regulations have on smaller turbines is so great that it basically negates any potential value gained, monetary value, if a town or someone were to want to put one up,” he said. “There is no way that having a sound study, and a flicker study, and all the studies that are required in this document for a small turbine fifty kilo-watts or less is feasible.”

Mr. Harcourt said he would like to see a provision for slightly less regulation or requirements for smaller wind turbines, which do not have the same impacts as mega-watt turbines.

Former MVC Commissioner Richard Toole, who served on the wind energy task force as a member of the Oak Bluffs energy committee, also questioned whether the proposed regulations would prove too burdensome.

“I hope that this doesn’t present too many issues that people have to deal with, that they would just look at it and say, forget it, I can’t go through all this,” Mr. Toole said.

“I think this is great; I think what you’ve done is a good thing,” he added, “but we have to keep our eye on the prize, and we can’t keep doing things to make it more and more difficult for renewable energy.”

MVC commissioner Kathy Newman of Aquinnah asked whether the MVC had a process to review the wind energy plan regulations, so that they might be “tweaked” in a few years.

Paul Pimentel, chairman of the board of Vineyard Power, a community-owned, not-for-profit energy cooperative, said he would encourage such a process, but he also expressed concerns about how changing regulations might affect long-term business plans.

“We seek clarity and certainty so that we can make investments and go forward with some sense that the ground is not going to shift,” Mr. Pimentel said. “So I would encourage this. I appreciate the idea of being conservative… I helped out on some of this stuff, but I think it would be good if we had some sense that it wasn’t all on sand and was not going to change because of something we couldn’t see coming.”

In other discussion, MVC commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, who has a wind turbine at her residence, said she doesn’t think the MVC really knows how the public at large feels about looking at large wind turbines.

“I think they are very attractive; that’s just my personal opinion,” Ms. Sibley said. “I wouldn’t mind sitting on South Beach and looking out at some not so terribly far away, great big, gracefully moving. That’s me. I don’t want to impose that on anybody, but I don’t think we know if people in general object to that.”

How the plan developed

As background, Mr. Sederholm explained that about four years ago, the state decided to develop a wind energy initiative for both land and the waters off the state shores. After examining ocean waters off Massachusetts, state energy officials said they found that the only two areas at the time that were commercially appropriate for wind energy were off of Gosnold and Martha’s Vineyard.

The MVC subsequently worked with the state in developing its Ocean Management Plan for ocean-based renewable energy facilities and lobbied for some input in decisions about wind energy development near the Island’s shores.

Mr. Sederholm said ultimately the state granted the MVC a “quasi-veto power” to determine whether an offshore wind energy project in either commercial areas is of appropriate scale. If not, the MVC can deny it.

“That is the only true local control that we have over offshore wind in these two areas; otherwise, the state can basically approve it and that will be that,” Mr. Sederholm said. “But there also was a considerable amount of concern about the development of wind energy on Martha’s Vineyard on land, and what’s appropriate, given our tourist economy and given the natural beauty and unique resources that we have here, what we’re all trying to protect. And that is essentially what this document tries to address in many ways.”

The draft wind energy plan is available online on the MVC website, www.mvcomission.org, with a search for Wind Energy Plan September 2012.