Islanders give Bowles meeting mixed reviews
Island officials differed over what was achieved at their meeting Friday with state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles.
A selectman from each Island town, as well as officials representing Dukes County, the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay head (Aquinnah) attended the Boston session. But while they all heard the same message from Mr. Bowles, they brought home varying opinions about how much control the Island will have over large-scale wind power development in near-shore waters.
State Representative Tim Madden and state Senator Robert O'Leary, whose districts include Martha's Vineyard, also attended. The meeting lasted about an hour.
Those present described the meeting as courteous and professional.
"The meeting was cordial," West Tisbury selectman Richard Knable said. "It wasn't a love fest, but it was cordial. It wasn't acrimonious; it wasn't adversarial."
In a statement issued by a spokesman, Secretary Bowles called the meeting productive and useful. He said it was "an important opportunity to discuss state and local priorities and resolve some of the issues that have arisen in the public comment period on the draft ocean management plan. We share the view that the Cape and Islands need to move quickly to diversify their energy mix away from over-reliance on fossil fuel energy, but also strike the appropriate balance between state and local interests in meeting such environmental imperatives."
No further proposals for change in the draft Ocean Plan, a comprehensive proposal that would regulate and offer guidance for development in state waters, came out of the meeting, but Secretary Bowles confirmed his previous commitment. On Wednesday of last week, Rep. Madden and Sen. O'Leary announced an agreement on several key changes in the draft.
In a letter to the legislators, Secretary Bowles wrote that for commercial wind projects, "The final Ocean plan will state that regional planning authorities with regulatory authority shall define the appropriate scale of any renewable energy project."
The regional planning authorities he refers to are the MVC and the Cape Cod Commission. There is similar language in the letter covering community wind projects, along with a provision for local towns to receive at least half of any mitigation funds required as a condition of such projects.
Mr. Knable said the delegation asked for further changes in the draft Ocean Plan and a delay in its implementation. "When we pressed him on other matters, for instance stopping the clock, not letting it go into effect on January 1, he made it very clear he wasn't going to do that, even though he had the power to do it," he said. "They're very cognizant of the fact that this is not a popular plan down here. We really wanted to have the clock stopped and go back and do it right. The plan was produced by 130 bureaucrats in Boston."
Members of the delegation also pressed for more control over potential projects in an area of state waters southwest of Cuttyhunk that is designated by the Ocean Plan for large-scale wind power development. That area, though actually in Dukes County waters - Cuttyhunk is a village in Gosnold, which is the seventh Dukes County town - is not subject to MVC regulatory authority.
"What we don't have," Mr. Knable said, "is a way of dealing with the area designated off of Cuttyhunk, which would impact the Vineyard as much as the area off Nomans Land. That's a problem that was not in any way resolved."
On the other hand, selectman Art Smadbeck came away from the Friday meeting pleased with the changes and the responsiveness of the state agency. "They gave us what we asked for," he said. "The MVC can decide the scope of the project. If the community doesn't want it, I don't see how it ever gets through the MVC. Given what we now have, I think it would be nearly impossible for an outside developer to come in and plunk down windmills without MVC approval."
Mark London, executive director of the MVC, took a wait and see position on the changes. "This is all very new, so we're trying to figure it out," Mr. London said. "The feeling was, we'll let them finish the plan, and in the New Year we'll sit down and sort out the best way."
The Ocean Plan allows for different appeal processes, depending on the size of the project. If the project would produce fewer than 100 megawatts of power, anyone disputing a permit issued by the MVC could appeal to state courts. In past cases, courts have upheld the MVC's regulatory authority in nearly every instance. If a project is to generate more than 100 megawatts, the route of appeal is to the state Energy Facilities Siting Board. That agency is made up of political appointees and has, with one minor exception, never denied a utility's request to site an energy project.
Several people who were at the meeting pointed out that if the MVC, which will have the right to determine the scale of the project, votes to limit wind power developments to fewer than 100 megawatts, it would effectively have control over all wind projects.
Rep. Madden, who had a hand in negotiations with Mr. Bowles on the changes in the draft plan, said the next step is to file legislation that would incorporate the changes into the Oceans Act. He and Senator O'Leary intend to file that legislation early next year. "Sec. Bowles has agreed, which was a huge thing, and something he was very hesitant to do, not to oppose the legislation," Representative Madden said. "The intent was for the commission to have approval over the waters, and the secretary realizes this is a way to do that."
Rep. Madden offered high praise for the grassroots efforts of Vineyard activists. "I think they had legitimate concerns and issues, and they were very forceful in bringing them to the secretary and his staff's attention. That truly made a huge difference."