Green Martha : Vineyard Power co-op meets its members, discusses plans
The first business meeting of Vineyard Power (VP) members was a standing-room-only affair convened to share numbers, raise money, and begin the process of establishing the co-operative's plans to permits to construct future wind turbines in state and federal waters. The gathering, held Sunday at the Katharine Cornell Theater, also offered a chance for members to ask questions and express concerns.
VP, incorporated as a cooperative in November 2009, now has more than 300 members, according to Paul Pimentel, chairman of the co-op directors. Anyone who lives on Martha's Vineyard and pays an electric bill may join. A share in the cooperative requires a one-time membership payment of $50. That fee increases quarterly until 2015, at which time a membership will cost $975.
The idea for the energy cooperative grew from the Martha's Vineyard Commission's (MVC) Island Plan, which sets goals and targets for development and change for the next 50 years. The co-op plans call for constructing as many as 40 ocean wind turbines in an offshore location agreeable to Vineyarders. Now, all utility users on Martha's Vineyard have the option to choose a supplier, and the default supplier is Cape Light Compact (CLC), a community-based group. Under the cooperative model, any surplus revenues would be returned to the members.
The first item on the agenda was the ratification of bylaws and members quickly expressed concerns. Bea Phear of West Tisbury said she had a serious question about the governance of the co-op. She said that the wording of the bylaws would allow two members of the board of directors to make decisions for all of the board and therefore all of the members.
Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman, said, "The bylaws have been set up to make the board powerful and the members a rubber stamp."
Both Ms. Phear and Mr. Doty asked for assurances that the bylaws would be rewritten or amended to resolve these problems before the annual meeting to be held in August. Mr. Pimentel said that the advisory committee would bring recommendations to the board for revising the bylaws.
Richard Andre, the new president, told the members that since incorporation, VP has realized $369,000 in income from membership fees, promissory notes, and start-up support from the Vineyard Energy Project. Expenses for 2010 are budgeted at $267,000. Fundraising in 2010 will come from a drive to increase membership to 2,000, as well as minimum investments of $10,000 from individuals in exchange for a promissory note.
"Ideally, membership will be 10,000 people on the Island," Mr. Andre said, adding that VP financing needs would be met from a variety of sources. In pre-development, $17 million would be needed to conduct leasing, permitting and environmental studies, and to make down payments on capital equipment and pre-construction expenses. Project financing, preliminarily estimated at $172 million, would come from a USDA Rural Utility Service Loan, the sale of federal tax credits and the sale of renewable energy credits.
David McGlinchey, executive director of the Vineyard Energy Project, which launched the cooperative project in 2008, updated members on the accelerated timelines recently established by both the federal and state government agencies overseeing coastal waters and energy development.
Mr. McGlinchey told the members that recent guidelines issued by the US Minerals Management Service is encouraging "innovative development" of wind turbines in the waters three to nine miles from shore and, he believes, that the new guidelines will "favor organizations with community ties."
The federal auctioning of permits and the leasing process for construction is now scheduled to run from May to September, 2010. The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, completed in January, now has the state's permitting and leasing process starting in July and concluding in December, 2010.
Board member Ted Bayne of West Tisbury said in a telephone interview with The Times that the goal is to have a federal permit application filed soon after the process begins, so that competing commercial wind development companies do not acquire permits for waters closer to shore than the Island community would like. The federal waters are preferable, according to Mr. Bayne, because although the construction costs are higher farther from shore, the turbines could be larger, generate more wind energy, and be less visible.
Members also learned that an Island-wide process will begin immediately to gather member comment on the process of deciding where on the water to seek leases and construction permits. According to VP's Tyler Studds, members will be asked to identify the variables that should be weighed in the decision-making process.
Clarence ("Trip") Barnes of Vineyard Haven asked for an explanation of the advantage of an Island co-op.
"Stable minimum power rate," said Mr. Pimentel, because the wind farm being proposed could produce 20 to 25 percent of the Island's electricity demands, on average, year-round, lowering of current electricity bills. "The chances are you are not going to be paying more in future years."
Another member asked if wind energy is the only technology VP is pursuing.
"Offshore wind is the most cost-efficient way to address our energy load," Mr. Pimentel said. "It is the most logical, but if something better comes along, let's look at it, and we will."