Island management of energy and waste at crossroads
Recent headlines, both nationally and locally, demonstrate growing awareness about the vital importance of careful energy and waste management. The Island Plan's energy and waste work group has been examining the Vineyard's aspects of these issues since late last year. This week, it is seeking feedback from the Vineyard community on its preliminary findings.
Island energy and waste involves big numbers that increase year by year: the various types of fuels and electricity the Vineyard now uses each year have the energy equivalent of 757,000 barrels of oil; that's about three-quarters of a 1,000-foot-long supertanker - a ship four times as long and three times as wide as the Island Home ferry. At the same time, the Island pays to ship off nearly 40,000 tons of waste annually - that's one out of every seven SSA ferry freight trips. And burning this quantity of fossil fuel puts more than 329,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.
In some ways, energy and waste issues carry extra significance for Martha's Vineyard. Reliability of energy supplies is especially sensitive here because we depend almost entirely on energy imported to our shores. Shipping fossil fuel by ferry or barge increases our exposure to hazards and accidents. Transmission of electricity from the mainland by underwater cables is susceptible to periodic interruption.
Economically, the Vineyard's extraordinarily high energy costs contribute to our higher cost of living; it is also very costly to ship waste off-Island for disposal. Most of our dollars spent on energy and on waste disposal do not benefit our local economy, because they do not get spent again on local goods, and do not expand our business opportunities.
Environmentally, burning fossil fuels results in air and water pollution that endangers the health of the public and of the environment. The Cape and Islands already experience among the poorest summer air quality in Massachusetts. The Vineyard is especially vulnerable to the projected impacts from sea level rise and severe weather that will result from climate change caused by burning fossil fuels.
Simply stated, the Vineyard community cannot continue to escalate its consumption of these amounts and types of fuels, or discard useable resources, without dramatically altering our environment and degrading our physical and economic well-being. The magnitude of these issues requires broad, fundamental restructuring in how we manage energy and waste on the Vineyard. The energy and waste work group has identified a series of emerging directions and promising initiatives to better position the Vineyard for the foreseeable future with respect to energy efficiency, energy production, and waste management.
Reduce projected energy needs by 50 percent through increased efficiency of energy use. The most cost-effective measures with the greatest immediate results involve using energy more efficiently. Suggested measures include adoption of a Vineyard energy code for new construction, energy audits and upgrades upon property resale, and becoming an incandescent-free Island. Hybrid-powered vehicles can help reduce the 35 percent share of our energy consumed for transportation, but significant inroads to reducing transportation related energy use will require our focusing on providing people alternatives to personal vehicle travel through better bus transit, walking and bicycling facilities, and more compact, mixed-use land development.
Generate our own renewable energy. Using existing technologies to appropriately tap our abundant and renewable solar, geothermal and wind energy sources could supply most of our energy needs while addressing reliability, economic and environmental issues, and could provide a new sector to the Vineyard's year-round economy. Offshore wind is our best resource for large-scale generation, which will be necessary to meet Island energy requirements.
Convert our waste to useful resources. Many valuable resources within our waste can be captured with a used building materials exchange, a comprehensive recycling facility, and a large-scale composting facility. These would reduce energy consumption and costs as well as create local jobs and products.
These initiatives are technologically feasible and in place in other parts of the world, but Martha's Vineyard needs the technical, financial and administrative infrastructure that would facilitate their development here. Issues of the magnitude of energy and waste -especially with their environmental and economic impacts - require dedicated entities to organize, promote, fund and execute actions. The regulatory policies and capital facilities involved appear to be most effectively undertaken and applied by a centralized, Island-wide structure, whether that would be the county or some other public, private, or quasi-public entity.
While we Vineyarders like to consider ourselves progressive thinkers, our community actually lags far behind many others in taking charge of our energy and waste. Yet we clearly have promising and exciting opportunities to make dramatic improvements. Our Island community, acting in unison, can effectively rise to meet the demands of our changing times.
This article was written by the core members of the Island Plan energy and waste work group. Sharon Strimling Florio is chairman of the energy and waste work group. The core members of the work group include: Phil Forest, Don Hatch, Kitt Johnson,
Fred Lapiana, David Nash, Paul Pimentel, Bart Smith, Russell Smith, Paul Strauss, Kate Warner, and Susan Wasserman. Staff support is provided by Bill Veno. The work group currently has 107 members.The Island Plan energy and waste discussion paper is available at www.islandplan.org, from the Martha's Vineyard Commission, and at libraries.