Sec. Bowles would calm Oceans Act tempest
Ian Bowles, Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said Tuesday that the state is prepared to listen to the concerns Islanders have about provisions of the Oceans Act. He said that while Islanders have focused on the designation of areas west of the Vineyard for wind farm development, the state is actively exploring the potential for wind farm development in federal waters well south of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
Mr. Bowles, a long-time Woods Hole resident and unsuccessful primary candidate for the 10th District seat in Congress, spoke in reassuring terms in a lengthy telephone interview with The Times Tuesday, about the provisions of the state's landmark ocean zoning measure that have many Islanders concerned.
"I think the main message I offer is first that we are in an accommodating posture towards the Vineyard's interests, that we see the significant majority of our interests in the wind sphere on federal waters, and finally that 98 percent of the plan is about refining ongoing management of state waters," Mr. Bowles said.
In particular, Island officials have questioned the decision to place the state's only two wind farm development areas south and west of Nomans Land and west of Cuttyhunk.
Mr. Bowles said the task in the development of the Ocean Plan was to look in scientific, quantifiable terms at those areas of state water that would be appropriate for wind power development. He said the next step is to consult with local partners. "Our intent from the beginning has been to be accommodating of local interests and priorities, and that approach will continue," he said.
The ocean management plan is part of an effort to regulate and offer guidance to offshore development, including wind energy installations, cables and pipelines, and sand mining projects. Up to now, development in state waters has been handled on an ad hoc basis.
Mr. Bowles said the Oceans Act is a very ambitious science-based process for management of state waters. He said that the question of wind development has captured the attention and emotion of many. "The message back is, we hear that loud and clear, and everything is on the table, and we do not come with a particular predisposition," he said.
Mr. Bowles said he thinks there is a much larger opportunity for the area of federal waters that remain shallow south of the two islands. "We and the federal Minerals Management Service are in the process right now of finalizing a task force to address the state-federal process around the exploration and ultimate development of significant offshore wind resources," he said, "which I think is the absolute number one priority of where we want to get to with offshore wind."
Mr. Bowles also addressed the concerns Islanders have over the extent to which the act circumscribes the permitting authority of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, the Island's powerful regional permitting body.
Island elected officials have rallied around the MVC's authority to control projects within designated districts of critical planning concern. Mr. Bowles said he understands that Islanders have focused on that issue, but that current law, predating the Oceans Act, places authority for energy facilities siting and permitting, whether transmission lines or power plants, with the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board, not with the Martha's Vineyard Commission or other similar regional agencies.
"My point is," Mr. Bowles said, "the Oceans Act did not change the fundamental balance of power in any way between the Vineyard authorities and the state authorities. The legislation did not change existing arrangements. People may wish to debate that, but it is a fact."
Mr. Bowles said the state had heard a lot of helpful comment from the MVC. "Our intent is to accommodate that feedback and sort out a pathway forward relative to any future potential wind development that is adjacent to Vineyard towns," he said.
Mr. Bowles laughed at the charges made by some Vineyard officials that the state designated the waters west of the Vineyard for wind farm development because the relatively lightly populated Island lacks political clout, or that Mr. Bowles's lieutenants had ignored data concerning migratory bird flight patterns. He said the sites were selected on their merits, and the selection followed a rigorous scientific process.
Mr. Bowles also said that there are likely to be changes in the designations as the process moves forward. "We have communities like Nantucket that are seeking to do more and have greater clarity and permissiveness in the plan," he said. "The feedback we are getting from Cuttyhunk is that they would like to move forward, and we want to try and accommodate that reasonable local request. I think the message we are getting from the Vineyard is that a number of us would like to see turbines around Nomans Land but only if we are the ones who decide that."
Mr. Bowles said the Oceans Act must be viewed as part of a wider zoning process that extends beyond wind and is viewed nationwide as a leading example of spatial planning for the marine environment. "The crux of what the Ocean Plan is about," he said, "is about designating areas and applying management regimes."
Mr. Bowles spoke in broad terms about the state's long-term goals within a meaningful time frame. "In our lifetime, I think you are trying to get to the point where the predominant sources of meeting all of our needs for power come from sources like energy efficiency savings, wind, solar and geothermal," he said.
Looking back more than 100 years, Mr. Bowles said at one time Buzzards Bay was ringed by windmills around farms. "They have been a part of our landscape throughout the Commonwealth's history," he said. "And I think as we make this transition to a highly greenhouse gas constrained clean energy powered economy, things are going to look different. And each community needs to struggle with that. Through that process they are going to sort out what are some of their preferences and things that they want to put forward."
Mr. Bowles said the state wants to be accommodating of reasonable plans that are aggressive in terms of meeting statewide greenhouse gas and renewable energy goals, provided they protect environmental values. "I am hopeful that we will quickly see a coalescence around some specific proposals from the Island, and I think the state's posture will be to say, terrific, let's work together," he said.
Last night, state officials were scheduled to return to the Island to address questions about the plan in a less formal setting.
The public comment period for the draft plan ends November 23. The plan will be finalized by December 31.