Aquinnah survey targets wind regs
If at first (second, third, fourth and fifth) you do not succeed, try, try, again; but first send out a questionnaire. That is what the Aquinnah planning board has done as it begins to reinflate the effort to gain voter approval for new wind turbine regulations and explore a community wind energy-generating project.
In October, the planning board sent a questionnaire by email to a list of 125 Aquinnah residents soliciting their views on what should be included in revised version of the town energy bylaw voters rejected. A second email went out in November.
It is all part of a determined outreach effort, said planning board member Carlos Montoya. The goal is a set of regulations that voters will be willing to approve at the annual town meeting this spring.
The email message that accompanied the questionnaire notes that in rejecting the earlier proposed bylaw voters expressed concerns over various provisions, including a requirement for energy audits, and the amount of public review. "The scope of the wind energy issue, in Aquinnah, is wide, covering both private wind energy and community wind energy for public benefit," said the email. "The planning board outreach aims to spread and collect information as widely as possible before returning to town meeting for a third try at a wind energy bylaw."
In fact, supporters made five failed attempts to gain voter approval of regulations creating an energy district of critical planning concern (DCPC), both at the annual town meeting in the spring and at several special town meetings that followed.
A DCPC designation provides for special regulations that are enforceable by the town and backstopped by the Martha's Vineyard Commission, Martha's Vineyard's powerful regional land-use permitting body.
At the time there was some question of why the planning board chose to go through the Martha's Vineyard Commission. Because the entire town of Aquinnah is already designated a DCPC, the only town-wide designation on Martha's Vineyard, any new regulations approved by voters and the Martha's Vineyard Commission would automatically fall within the DCPC designation.
Camille Rose, chairman of the planning board and selectman, said that procedurally, the annual town meeting did not allow for the type of discussion or time needed to pass the energy bylaw when it was first presented. Many voters were also reading it for the first time, she said, and the next time around she hopes voters will be better informed.
This time around, town leaders plan to propose the redraft of the energy regulations in the form of changes to the town's zoning bylaws. But first they want to gather as much input as possible in an effort to help voters understand them and support them.
Mr. Montoya said the planning board has received more than 18 responses to its email. Not a bad response, he said, in a town notorious for its inability to reach a quorum. As for common themes in the responses, he said people are consistently thinking about where to have wind turbines and how to do it, "rather than whether to do it."
The questionnaires will be used to retool the bylaws that will also be the subject of a series of public hearings.
The planning board questionnaire asks 14 questions. In some cases respondents are asked to check one of the choices provided or comment.
The first question asks, "Should there be regulation of wind energy in Aquinnah?" The three possible responses are: yes, no, comment.
Several questions pertain to the concept of a community wind turbine. For example, question eight asks, "What are your thoughts on a possible business plan for a community wind turbine in Aquinnah?" The choices include leasing town land to a private group, a town-owned project and shared ownership with a nonprofit Cape-based municipal energy group.
The last questions surveys respondents about their willingness to support collaboration on any "big wind projects" with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head.
In response to a request from The Martha's Vineyard Times, the planning board provided a sampling of the responses. Many of those included comments.
Tom Murphy wrote, "I believe the selectmen should appoint a committee of qualified individuals (business experience, energy specialists, conservationists, lawyers, etc.) to review state-of-the-art energy technology, and make an unbiased and unemotional recommendation to the Board. They should recommend the least intrusive and most efficient system to provide the greatest economic benefit to the Town."
Eric Berke had other concerns. He commented, "Aquinnah should not have a renewable-revenue producing project at all - potential environmental impact too great."
Many of those who responded provided thoughtful responses and thanks to the planning board for the opportunity.
In his response to the question of whether the wind power issue in Aquinnah is about balancing costs and benefit, James Glavin wrote, "The entire analysis is about cost/benefit. And the parameters underlying judgments thus made. Clean energy independence is a huge benefit. We are groping to understand the costs, and that exercise is good. But until we have a real, economically sound proposal before us; the discussion is very academic and will be quite difficult to focus or achieve consensus. I suspect this is the problem that the very well intentioned effort to address this question is running into and may not overcome short of a specific project in mind. Perhaps the economics for such a project do not exist despite our sincere desire to see it happen."
Mr. Glavin added, "Thanks, Camille, for the effort you are putting into this. I probably didn't add much to the discussion, but wanted to express my appreciation."