Tribe and town miss on wind energy plans
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is currently testing the potential for generating significant energy from wind turbines located on tribal land.
At the same time the town of Aquinnah planning board is soliciting public input as it explores public support for a municipal wind energy facility and re-crafts a set of proposed energy bylaws that voters previously rejected at town meeting.
Although the Tribe and town appear to share similar goals of harnessing the prevailing winds that sweep in from the ocean and across the scenic moors and hills of Martha's Vineyard's westernmost town, there has been little or no communication between the two governments.
In 2006, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), which administers energy efficiency funds for the state and promotes renewable energy programs, provided the Tribe with a $50,000 grant for a wind energy feasibility study through a pre-development finance program, which targets public entities that might not be eligible for the MTC's community wind initiative program.
In October 2007, MTC awarded Aquinnah an $18,000 Community Wind Project grant through its wind initiative program, which specifically targets municipalities interested in developing wind-energy projects on town-owned land. The money was used to fund a wind turbine site survey completed in April 2008.
Carlos Montoya is a member of the planning board and a leader in the effort to explore a town-owned wind turbine. Mr. Montoya, a landscaper, said there has been no communication that he knows of between the town and the tribe about ways they might coordinate efforts.
Mr. Montoya said the potential to generate energy from wind turbines must be examined against the ability of the existing infrastructure to funnel that energy back into the wider grid. At the moment, there is no guarantee that should the Tribe and the town develop turbines that the NStar infrastructure would be sufficient to absorb the power.
Mr. Montoya, point man on the town's community wind energy committee, said that in March he received the approval of the board of selectmen for permission to contact the Tribe to discuss the possibility of collaborating on wind energy. "I contacted Cheryl Andrews-Maltais shortly thereafter for an appointment," said Mr. Montoya in an email to The Martha's Vineyard Times. "I attempted to reach her by e-mail, phone, fax and, finally, by hand-carrying a letter to her to the receptionist at the Tribal headquarters, but with no luck or response that I know of."
Ms. Andrews-Maltais did not respond to several messages left on her telephone answering machine.
Yesterday afternoon Tobias Vanderhoop, tribal administrator, emailed The Martha's Vineyard Times in response to earlier telephone messages left for Ms. Andrews-Maltais. He wrote, "Chairwoman Andrews-Maltais will be happy to respond to any questions you have but requests that you forward your questions to us in writing so that she can respond via e-mail."
After two years of delays, in June the Tribe erected a 164-foot meteorological (MET) tower to support scientific equipment that will track weather information to determine if the site located on tribal land is optimal for electricity-producing wind turbines.
According to the Tribe's project grant application, "The wind feasibility study will analyze and evaluate the site, wind resources, permitting issues, visual and community impact and the project economics. It is envisioned that wind turbine(s) ranging from 850 kW (kilowatts) to 2.1 MW (megawatts) in size would be well suited to the site and the total project size may range from 1.7 to 6 MW."
According to one builder familiar with wind energy projects, if the annual wind speed at the site were approximately 12 miles per hour, which is likely, each megawatt of capacity would produce enough energy for 300 to 350 typical homes using 6,000 KWh per year.
Reached at his office Monday, tribal planner Durwood "Woody" Vanderhoop said the MET tower is operational. He said the Tribe expects to be in a position by July 2009 to evaluate the collected data and examine the options and possibilities for developing wind energy facilities. He added that the Tribe is actively seeking a developer experienced in wind energy to partner with the Tribe.
Mr. Vanderhoop said he has attended several town forums to discuss wind energy in order to keep informed about what the town is doing. "I am very much wiling to work with the town and let folks know that we are happy to share resources where it makes sense," he said.
The Tribes grant application describes a comprehensive community education effort. It said the Tribe will "...produce education materials that describe the wind project to the community surrounding the proposed wind project; provide information in education materials that will empower community and tribal group members to make well-informed decisions concerning support of our wind project."
That outreach includes building partnerships with other organizations committed to developing wind energy on the Cape and Martha's Vineyard. According to the grant, the Tribe will "Cultivate community support by encouraging community participation in the planning process; Inform and educate community on the attributes and benefits of renewable energy resources, benefits to Martha's Vineyard residents, environmental health issues, and the connection with the proposed wind project."
The last advertised tribal public hearing was in May 2006 when the Wampanoag Tribe's land-use commission met with consultants and Aquinnah citizens to discuss the tower.
Camille Rose, selectman and chairman of the planning board, said that if the Tribe held a public meeting to discuss their wind plans, she was unaware of it. She said the only public meeting she is aware of was a meeting of the Aquinnah planning board in June 2006 about a special permit for the MET tower. "They did not discuss plans other than the hope to provide wind power for tribal housing," she said.
On Monday, Mr. Vanderhoop downplayed any sense that the Tribe is unwilling to provide information about its wind energy plans or engage in community outreach. He said the lack of outreach is tied to the absence of a consultant and the fact that the proposal has not advanced beyond the MET tower phase.
"There is no public discussion because there has been nothing put together past getting the MET tower up," Mr. Vanderhoop said. "Once we begin looking at possibilities then there will be some time for public discussion."
Although the MET tower is up, the Tribe has yet to receive a town building permit. It is one of three Tribe projects, along with a community center and shed, without town building permits.
Yesterday, Tribe and town leaders were scheduled to meet about the permitting issues in an attempt to resolve the procedural issues that are at the root of the permitting delay.