MVC pulls the plug on Oak Bluffs Water District solar array

The MVC rejected a proposed Oak Bluffs Water District solar array that would have destroyed six acres of the State Forest. – Stacey Rupolo

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission has denied the proposed Solar Energy System (SES) for the Oak Bluffs Water District (OBWD). Thursday night’s vote of the full commission to reject the project was not unexpected after the Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) unanimously voted 5 – 0 on Monday, Nov. 14 to recommend the full commission reject the project, which they did by a vote of 11 – 2. Tisbury commissioner Clarence “Trip” Barnes and West Tisbury commissioner Ernest Thomas were the dissenting votes.

The full commission echoed the major concern of the LUPC — that the loss of six acres of from the State Forest, which some experts contended is “ancient forest,” and the four acres that would be topped-off for improved sun exposure, did not compensate for the solar energy that would be created.

Blue Wave Capital, the permitting and consulting entity for the project, projected the SES would save the OBWD $668,000 in electricity costs over the 20-year contract, and bring in roughly $793,000 in income, including $236,000 to the town in property tax.

“I applaud the water district for trying to do something good but it’s really the wrong place,” West Tisbury commissioner Doug Sederholm said, in what became the mantra of the deliberations. “It’s a good idea, but it’s not worth sacrificing six acres of our forest.”

Mr. Thomas expressed a different view. “I think the sacrifice of 5.9 acres might be a reasonable exchange,” he said.

“What’s special about Martha’s Vineyard is natural beauty. That’s what we’re here for; we’re here to protect that,” Mr. Sederholm said. “They’re not making any more of it.”

On Monday, BlueWave Capital senior director Jonathan Mancini told The Times, “We are still assessing our next steps at this time.”

BlueWave Capital also issued a press release on Monday, which restated that the project had approvals from the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Drinking Water Program: “We believe that great care was provided and the necessary approvals were in place to justify positive action by the commission … We are disappointed, but we respect the decision and appreciate the commission’s time and consideration of this project.

“Whether on behalf of the project owner in this case, SunEdison, or through our own projects developed throughout the commonwealth, BlueWave has always been committed to working closely with landowners, abutters, the community at large, local boards, departments, and commissions, as well as the state and federal governments to ensure that we incorporate the best land use and environmental management design and practices into our solar PV projects.”

In other business on Thursday night, the MVC voted that the renovation of the Wavelengths building on Upper Main Street in Edgartown has veered so far from the plan the commission originally approved that it must return for a public hearing.