DCPC targets wind turbines
The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) last Thursday voted 12 to 1 to accept a nomination to create an Island wind district of critical planning concern (DCPC) that would cover the airspace above 220 feet over the waters of Dukes County.
The purpose of the DCPC is to provide a framework to regulate large-scale wind turbine development, according to the MVC.
Much of the discussion Thursday night concerned whether or not to include Island land and waters in the DCPC nomination. Acceptance of a nomination immediately triggers a moratorium on development permits.
Several commissioners expressed concerns about the impact of a DCPC moratorium on small-scale land-based wind turbine projects already in the works for the Edgartown wastewater plant and West Tisbury School. After much discussion, the MVC decided to separate the DCPC nominations into two, one for land and one for sea.
With Thursday night's vote, a development moratorium is now in effect on all building projects exceeding 220 feet above mean sea level in the waters of Dukes County, from the Island's shoreline to the three-mile Massachusetts boundary limit.
The next step in the regulatory process is a public hearing scheduled for Thursday, November 5 at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. The commissioners will accept public comment on the nomination to designate Island waters as a wind DCPC.
If the MVC votes at a public hearing on November 5 to designate the Island's waters as a DCPC, a moratorium of up to one year would be put into effect. During that time the towns would create proposed regulations for the new district in conformance with the MVC's guidelines for development.
Also on November 5 the MVC is expected to act on a second DCPC that would apply to airspace above 220 feet over Vineyard lands, except for Indian common lands and settlement lands. If accepted, a second public hearing and DCPC vote would be required within 60 days. During that time a second development moratorium would go into effect for land-based projects that exceed 220 feet in height while the towns create proposed regulations.
As a next step, the MVC will hold a public hearing and vote to approve the proposed regulations based on conformance to the commission's guidelines for development. The regulations for a newly created DCPC require approval by a two-thirds majority vote at town meetings, at which time the development moratorium ends.
Commissioner Holly Stephenson of Tisbury began discussion Thursday night by reading a prepared statement.
"This new DCPC could be a showcase for Massachusetts," Ms. Stephenson said. "This was exactly what the Martha's Vineyard Commission was created for, to protect the natural beauty of the Island. But we could also be an example of a way of life that would protect the natural beauty of the entire earth. "The state and Martha's Vineyard should work together," she added. "Implementing the energy goals outlined in the Island Plan would be a start."
Ms. Stephenson suggested developing the DCPC in three stages, first regulating wind turbines in ocean waters, then broadening the definition to cover wind turbines on land, and lastly expanding it to include sustainable living guidelines developed in the MVC's Island Plan.
Commissioner Bill Bennett of Chilmark, however, bypassed further discussion with a motion to divide the DCPC nomination into two, one for water and one for land, and to defer a decision on the land-based DCPC until November 5 to allow time to consider more information.
Island officials proposed the wind DCPC in response to the state's draft Ocean Management Plan that identifies two areas for the development of large-scale wind farms - on southwest of Nomans Land and the other west of Cuttyhunk.
Nominations from Aquinnah's selectmen and planning board proposed designating the wind DCPC area as the airspace above 200 feet over Vineyard lands, with the exception of Indian common lands and settlement lands, and Vineyard waters out to where Federal waters begin.
The Chilmark selectmen also submitted a DCPC nomination that included the lands and the waters of Dukes County. The Chilmark Planning Board submitted a DCPC nomination for the waters only.
The Oak Bluffs selectmen and planning board sent letters in support of a DCPC that includes the Island's lands and waters, as did Tisbury's selectmen and planning board, and the West Tisbury selectmen. The Dukes County Commissioners sent a letter in support of a DCPC for the county's waters only, as did the Edgartown selectmen.
In discussion about the proposed DCPC at the Edgartown selectmen's meeting on September 28, selectman Arthur Smadbeck said, "All of a sudden it morphed onto land and may jeopardize a project that we think is pretty important."
Edgartown's proposal to construct a wind turbine at the wastewater facility is currently under review and awaiting approval by the Federal Aviation Administration. Plans call for the installation of a wind turbine 363 feet high at the top of the blade tip, which is expected to produce between 75 to 125 percent of the wastewater treatment facility's needs. Depending on the output, some of the turbine's energy also would be used to power the Edgartown School.
A few days after their meeting, the Edgartown selectmen sent a letter to the MVC stating their support of the DCPC designation for Island waters but not one that would include the land portion of Edgartown.
Given that Edgartown already allows small wind turbines by special permit, which fall below the minimum wattage level subject to the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board's jurisdiction, the selectmen said they thought it was unnecessary for the MVC to designate all of Edgartown as a DCPC at this time.
At last week's MVC meeting, coastal planner and DCPC coordinator Jo-Ann Taylor called the commissioners' attention to letters from Superintendent of Public Schools James Weiss and Edgartown Wastewater Facilities Manager Joe Alosso. Both stated concerns about the effects of a possible moratorium if the DCPC nomination was accepted for both land- and water-based wind energy projects.
The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) recently received a feasibility study grant for a wind turbine at West Tisbury School, with the potential to reduce the school's overall electricity costs by 70 percent and reduce costs for taxpayers in the three up-Island towns.
Mr. Weiss and the UIRSD requested that the MVC consider raising the acceptable height of land-based turbines or excluding municipal and other public projects from the imposition of a construction moratorium so their project could move forward.
Mr. Alosso's letter said that he supports a DCPC for what it is intended to address, which are large-scale wind turbine projects. Given that the UIRSD's and Edgartown's smaller scale projects have been in the works for some time and already received public finances, Mr. Alosso also asked the MVC to consider exempting them from the moratorium or come up with a way to structure it that would not impede their progress.
Under the MVC's enabling legislation, once the commission votes to consider a nominated area as a critical district, a special 60-day moratorium goes into effect. The moratorium suspends the authority of a town or towns in the critical area from issuing development permits within the area being considered.
According to the MVC website, "The moratorium extends to all 'development permits,' defined by the statute as 'any permit, license, authority, endorsement of permission required from a municipal agency prior to the commencement of construction, improvement or alteration made to buildings or land.'"
Exemptions may be granted for proposed projects certified by the MVC as essential to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare because of an existing emergency, according to the MVC website. Also, development permits that would have been granted under a development ordinance or bylaw in effect immediately prior to the nomination of a DCPC area would be exempted.
MVC commissioner Peter Cabana of Tisbury raised objections to breaking the DCPC into two, given that five of six Island towns asked for one that would designate both Island lands and waters. He cast the dissenting vote against accepting the DCPC nomination for consideration.