Vineyard Power’s efforts may help curb climate change

Richard Andre, president of Vineyard Power, hopes to empower communities to chose which renewable energy projects get funded in their communities. — Stacey Rupolo

In a discussion about climate change on Monday evening at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, Vineyard Power president Richard Andre, and Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) president and executive director Philip Duffy were preaching to the choir. The crowd at the center was committed to the science of climate change, and to the development of strategies to limit its potential effects.

Of particular interest was an effort, underway now, to press for enactment of legislation titled Community Empowerment. The bill would permit Massachusetts communities to choose, through a democratic process, what types of renewable energy projects they want to support with their payments for electricity. Representative Fernandes is the first co-sponsor of the bill, which now has more than 40 additional sponsors.

Mr. Fernandes opened the event, sponsored by the Hebrew Center’s social action committee along with the WHRC, saying, “There’s not a bigger issue that’s going to affect my generation or my children’s generation than climate change.”

He introduced Mr. Andre, whose organization has been instrumental in advocating for new legislation. He told The Times after the event that Vineyard Power, in collaboration with its stakeholders, wrote the bill. It helps both the renewable energy developers and energy consumers, he said.

“Developers can’t gather creditworthy customers so that they can get the funding needed to start their projects,” Mr. Andre explained. In turn, he said, the consumers don’t get to reap the benefits of clean energy choice because the developers’ projects can’t get off the ground. A previous version of the legislation was first introduced during the prior session by then Rep. Tim Madden.

“It gathered a lot of support, and was eventually passed by the Senate, with Sen. Dan Wolf’s help,” Mr. Andre said. It didn’t pass the House, however, but was sent to conference committee with other energy bills. It was reintroduced by Sen. Julian Cyr and supported by Mr. Fernandes in this session. If the bill is passed this time around, it could shape how Island customers get their energy.

“If passed, West Tisbury, Tisbury, or Oak Bluffs, either together or individually, could start to set their own goal of 100 percent renewable energy, or 50 percent — residents decide by themselves. Or they could decide not to use renewable energy at all. It’s not a requirement, it’s an option,” Mr. Andre explained.

Towns would then solicit requests for proposals, and determine if they want solar, land-based wind development, or offshore wind energy.

“Some communities may want the project in their town, but some may not want a land-based wind turbine located in their community,” Mr. Andre told The Times. “They could get their energy from a land-based turbine in Maine instead. Residents would vote, and if the outcome is positive, the town would enter into an agreement with developers.”

During his presentation, Mr. Andre said, “Vineyard Power represents 1,400 households and businesses; that’s 5,000 individuals, year-round and seasonal, on Martha’s Vineyard. All you need to have is an electric meter, and there’s 19,000 of those on the Island.”

Mr. Andre reviewed Vineyard Power’s offshore wind project, located in the Atlantic 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. He said the timeline to begin construction, once the federal government approves all the contracts and all its regulations are in place, is likely 2020 or 2021.

“We’re anticipating 2,000 employees, construction jobs, and after construction, some 30 to 50 residual jobs that stay in place,” Mr. Andre told The Times. He said his group plans to develop a maintenance and operations facility on Vineyard Haven Harbor, and Vineyard Power would also work with high school students, making sure they know what types of jobs will become available in conjunction with the project and what skills would be necessary. “These are jobs that didn’t exist before,” he said. “These are not minimum-wage jobs. The town of Tisbury is supportive; it’s economic development in the town.”

Mr. Fernandes lauded Vineyard Power’s work on the Community Empowerment legislation, and added that the issue of climate change should be “framed around jobs and the economy.”

“Thirty-seven thousand jobs have been created in our state since 2010 because of renewable energy,” Mr. Fernandes said. “We’re second only behind California with solar panel jobs. We even beat Arizona.” He added that a carbon tax is needed if the state is going to truly address climate change.

Mr. Fernandes discussed the ocean acidification bill that he refiled, a holdover from Mr. Madden’s tenure. Acidification is a threat to shellfisheries, Mr. Fernandes said. He pointed out that part of the Pacific Northwest’s shellfish industry has moved to Hawaii because of acidification, which prevents shellfish from forming a shell.

Mr. Duffy, a physicist who has devoted his career to the use of science in addressing climate change, served in the White House National Science and Technology Council and as a senior policy analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Mr. Duffy talked about WHRC, explaining that just across Vineyard Sound, an organization helps other countries around the world measure their greenhouse gases. “Thousands of scientists and 195 countries agree that humans are the primary cause of climate change,” Mr. Duffy said. Climate change is caused by carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, and the bulk of the increase in emissions has occurred since 1950, he explained.

Mr. Duffy said that the United States’ emissions have actually decreased, but that other developing countries with rapidly growing economies and populations are a concern.

Statewide, he said, a carbon tax would put a price on “dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Right now, it doesn’t cost anything, but it costs us a lot due to the effects on the environment.”