Wind energy plan work group breezes into action on siting rules
A wind energy work group took off at its first meeting on March 11, setting an ambitious schedule to accomplish the Martha's Vineyard Commission's (MVC) goal to adopt a siting plan for wind turbines by December.
"We don't intend to discuss the merits or demerits of wind energy in the state," MVC commissioner and work group facilitator Doug Sederholm said in opening the discussion. "We don't want to digress into large philosophical issues, because we have a lot to accomplish."
The work group's formation followed a January 14 workshop held by the MVC, to begin deliberations over a wind energy siting plan for Dukes County. The MVC staff drafted a working document for the plan in preparation for the workshop.
The draft siting plan deals with land-based and offshore wind energy facilities, especially those that would have a regional impact. The plan also addresses the MVC's role in determining what is the appropriate scale for wind energy facilities in the waters of Dukes County, in accordance with the state's Ocean Management Plan.
The Ocean Plan identifies two areas in state waters for commercial development of utility-scale wind-generation renewable energy projects, both in Dukes County waters.
The siting plan will set determining criteria for projects the MVC would review as developments of regional impact (DRI).
The plan will also serve as a guide for Island towns, whether in reviewing applications for wind turbines under existing regulations, evaluating regulations that pertain to larger turbines, or formulating new regulations for districts of critical planning concern (DCPC).
The MVC voted last fall to accept nominations to create an Island wind DCPC for the airspace above most of the lands and waters under its regulatory jurisdiction.
In follow-up to the January workshop, the MVC invited selectmen, the Dukes County commissioners, the Wampanoag Tribal Council, and Island town planning boards and energy committees to appoint representatives to the work group. Several of those who attended the work group's March 11 meeting were planning board members.
MVC executive director Mark London reminded the group that its work on the wind energy plan does not presume any outcome. "Whether we end up with one hundred, twenty or zero turbines, that's not the issue," he said.
The wind energy plan is intended to be a collaborative effort by everybody in the work group, Mr. Sederholm said. "We're not telling the towns what to do," he explained. "We're trying to promote clarity and understanding, and where appropriate, uniformity in standards. We're looking for help in addressing the issues of criteria for wind projects."
Since the January workshop, Mr. London said he and MVC staff member Bill Veno met with the Cape Cod Commission (CCC), which, like the MVC, also lacks a threshold for determining what wind energy projects would require review as DRIs.
Although the two regional planning agencies are working on wind energy plans, their focuses are different, Mr. London said. However, the Cape group expressed a willingness to work with its Vineyard counterpart, and such collaboration could be beneficial, he added.
In preparation for the work group's first meeting, the MVC staff and commissioners developed an outline of objectives to plan for and regulate turbines, and a work program to complete five tasks by December 2010.
Those include identifying and mapping data, setting standards, drafting a model bylaw that could be used by towns drafting regulations under the Island wind DCPC, determining criteria for reviewing wind energy projects as developments of regional impact, and gauging appropriate scale for offshore wind energy projects.
"I would think standards will be the real guts of this effort," Mr. Sederholm said, in reference to criteria such as wind availability, safety, noise and vibration, flicker effect, visual impacts, and scenic values. However, the most time-sensitive issue, as he pointed out, is drafting a model bylaw, because the deadline for the towns to adopt the Island Wind DCPC is November 5 for the offshore zone and December 17 for the land zone.
Working backwards from the DCPC deadline, Mr. London said the group should start drafting model regulations at the beginning of April and finish by June, in order to give the Island towns at least four months to consider the wording, hold hearings, and schedule special town meetings in the fall for a vote.
As a first step, Mr. London suggested that planning board representatives should meet and compare notes on their respective towns' existing or draft wind turbine regulations. Mr. Sederholm asked them also to focus on developing a model bylaw or a range of options for such a rule.
Andy Goldman, chairman of Chilmark's community preservation and housing committees, cautioned that the work group should try to determine whether sources that provide information about wind energy are objective.
"I think we all have to use our own personal filters when looking at information," Mr. Sederholm concluded. "It is an issue that certainly fuels passion."
The work group tentatively agreed to schedule future meetings on the second Thursday each month, at 5 pm at the MVC offices in Oak Bluffs.