Making Martha’s Vineyard 100 percent renewable


Each year, Martha’s Vineyard uses the equivalent of the entire output of an average-size nuclear power plant operating for a month and a half, according to a recent study done for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. That study also shows we emit some 270,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. While these are actually tiny numbers on the global scale, we have both a moral responsibility to do what we can to lower our greenhouse gas emissions and a true opportunity to provide leadership to our region, our state, and our country.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of a key turning point in the existential drama of our changing climate. In 1979, the National Academy of Sciences held its first major review of the science of climate change after NASA and NOAA published alarming findings. The review was held at the academy’s center in Woods Hole, only a few miles from our Island home. One finding: It might take several decades for the impacts of the extraordinary increase in emissions to become apparent, but by that time significant changes to the climate would be inevitable.

Four decades later, we are seeing on an almost daily basis the evidence of a changing climate that no doubt seemed far in the future when the academy’s review was completed. Since then, much has changed, and unfortunately, much has stayed the same. While the science has become much clearer, corporate interests have continued to actively oppose efforts to migrate away from fossil-fuel-based energy. National and global leaders have so far failed to take the measures necessary to meet their own professed climate action commitments.

So what can be done to avert planetary catastrophe for this and future generations? It has become very clear that the necessary leadership at this point in time must come from local actions and local activism.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard, a surge of community concern has been prompted by the realization that, as an Island, we are on the front lines in confronting the realities of climate change. The environmental impacts here will be many and varied — including rising seas, an increase in the severity of coastal storms and storm surges, and changes in our ecosystems. Climate disruption will also have significant financial implications. A recent study projects that Barnstable County will need to spend some $7 billion over the next two decades to address the issues of climate change — third highest in the nation. While Dukes County was not part of the study, the magnitude of Barnstable County’s necessary outlay is sobering and instructive.

A number of Island organizations are now working in concert on the dual challenges posed by the changing climate — preparing for what is to come (adaptation), and limiting greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation). Our electric power cooperative, Vineyard Power, has worked tirelessly to make significant renewable energy generation from offshore wind a reality. A grassroots citizen’s group, the Island Climate Action Network, has been invaluable in raising awareness of the challenges we face in adapting to the changing climate, and identifying concrete actions that Islanders can take to turn that awareness into a stronger and more resilient community.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission has established the MVC Climate Change Task Force, which is working to develop master plans for both regional climate change adaptation and a regional energy transformation. Coordination with town-level planning is key; these issues are both local and regional.

In 2016, a group of town energy committee members established an all-Island energy committee, which we dubbed the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee (VSEC). This committee aims to ensure that best practices and important activities in each town are shared across our entire community.

An initial VSEC initiative was to get each of our six towns accepted as a Massachusetts Green Community, and to participate in this grant program focused on energy efficiency for municipal buildings. By the end of 2019, Tisbury, West Tisbury, Aquinnah, and Chilmark will be Green Communities. Oak Bluffs and Edgartown are on track to achieve this status in 2020.

VSEC’s next objective is to have our entire community adopt serious greenhouse gas reduction goals that are consistent with, but slightly more aggressive than, Massachusetts’s statutory requirements. To do so, we are sponsoring a “100 Percent Renewable Martha’s Vineyard” warrant article, which will come before the voters at all the upcoming annual town meetings.

The nonbinding goals in this article are simple: Migrate to 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030 (the state is already at 20-plus percent), and 100 percent renewable electricity by 2040, and to reduce our fossil-fuel carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040. While these goals will not be easy to achieve, they are necessary (on a global basis) to avoid the most serious outcomes associated with global warming beyond 2oC. We need to do our part.

We live in interesting and challenging times — but our children and grandchildren will inherit what we do or fail to do. It is very tempting to ignore the climate crisis. After all, Martha’s Vineyard is a very small part of the world, and national and global leadership has so far failed miserably in addressing the problem that the conference in Woods Hole in 1979 identified. We cannot wait for national leaders, nor is it appropriate to expect that future generations will do all the work. The time is now, and the key to tackling the global problem is local action. With all of us working together, Martha’s Vineyard can do this!


Rob Hannemann is chair of the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee (VSEC), and is a member of the MVC Climate Crisis Task Force. VSEC is made up of town energy committee leaders, and aims to ensure that best practices and important activities in each town are shared across our entire community. Rob was previously an engineering professor at Tufts University, and is a full-time Chilmark resident.


  1. Maybe someone can school me up here. What exactly does 100% renewable mean? Does this mean no gas stations, propane companies, marine fuel distributors? Or is this somehow forced options of energy suppliers?

  2. While it sounds great to be looking at a goal of 100% renewable, I feel that is about as likely as humans inhabiting planets in other galaxies in the next hundred years. Let’s set some goals that are attainable. As with anything, the low hanging fruit is the easiest to get.
    My guess is if we could cut emissions 90 % for x numbers of dollars, getting the last 10 % would cost about as much as the first 90% . When you say 100 % renewable ,it gives the deniers the chance come out and portray environmentalist as nut cases. And with good reason– we just aren’t going to get there.

  3. Dismissing the 100 percent number but then suggesting 90 percent,seems equally improbable. With Asia emissions up 40 percent and most folks in the US not willing to pay more than 2 dollars each for climate remediation, the actions on MV while laudable are like a few people peeing in the ocean to change equilibrium.

  4. Andrew– While I was not actually advocating for 90%, I can see why you might think that. I think any reduction is in the right direction, and we could easily cut 25 % .
    I would like to see the time frame on that 40%
    Of the top 3 polluters in the world,
    The US releases more than twice that of India, and more than half of what China emits.
    On a per capita basis, The US is way ahead. In 2017:
    US — 16.2 metric tons per person
    China— 7.1
    India— 1.6
    On an individual basis, we have potentially the biggest impact .
    On change in emissions since 1992 : ( pick a time frame, any time frame)
    China—- 270 % increase
    India—-253% increase
    US——1.8 % increase
    Many developed European countries have reduced their output since 1992
    Those numbers come about because of regulations or the lack thereof.
    The link provided looks at the top 25 countries:
    The US had it’s largest one year increase since 2010 last year ( up 2.8 % from 2017 to 2018 )
    We can do better — we can take some responsibility rather than blame others.

  5. dondondon. No one cares about per capita. I thought it is the total amount of emissions that is the problem not the per capita. Climate change is not a respector of per capita. Its the absolute number that is the problem. China was up 4.7 percent in the same year. Between 2005 and 2017 China was up more than 40 percent and India doubled while the US dropped a bit. We are not the bad guys.

    • Andrew, it is disingenuous at best to ignore per capita emissions.
      As I have said, the us dropped because of regulations under the Obama administration.
      We have the money, the technology and the ridiculous wasteful practices to make a difference.
      If the police on the island started enforcing anti idling laws, we could save more energy that a whole village in India.

  6. Where is the link dondondon that states that enforcing idling laws on MV would save more energy than a village in India? You are making an assertion with no basis in fact. How large is the village? How many MV cars need to be stopped? If you heated your house in winter to 60 degrees it would save more energy than a small town in Cameroon.

    • andrew– you are making my point– if the police in VH could get 4 people to stop idling, it might compensate for a village of 2 people in a village somewhere in India. Who are you to dispute that ?
      And just fyi– my house rarely gets above 65 during the winter, mostly heated by an environmentally advanced wood stove fueled by wood that is either the result of storm damage or clearing for construction projects.

  7. Andrew -ok have it your way-the United States emits as much carbon as the combined output of 173 of the world’s 195 countries. I would think that makes us one of the bad guys

  8. More empty posturing and pointless virtue signalling. Want to make an immediate environmental difference? Then why not work to make recycling easier on this island. That’s about as elemental an environmental issue as I can think of. Why do we make people feed cans and bottles into a machine, and throw away the ones the machine doesn’t like? Newsprint and cardboard ends up in the garbage flow. Why do we make people drive their recycling to the dump, and buy a dump sticker just to drop them off? Any environmentally serious community would pick recycling up at the curb. Islanders gasp and clutch their pearls at the amount of litter, but we do nothing to make it easier to responsibly recycle and/or dispose of litter. At a dime a can, curbside recyling might actually turn a profit. Perhaps it could be privatized. We should at least get this right before we move on to loftier goals.

    • blue fish.. you are right on point — ok one simple idea — take all glass that comes into the recycling program on the island, grind it up and either sell or have goodales pay for it, and put it into the cement mix rather than gravel.
      it has to be cost effective. The other no brainer idea is to put all containers up to al least a 25 cent deposit, perhaps a dollar.

  9. dondondon. The combined output of those 173 countries make up less than 25 percent of the worlds economy. Of course a country that has 20 trillion of GNP per year and has a decent life style for most of its people will have lots of emissions. Would you rather live in one of those 173 countries?. Do you want to live in a country that doesn’t emit much but you cant buy a chicken? Since you are a great researcher on Huffington Post, please look up how much people are not willing to pay to mitigate climate change. 68 percent of the population wouldn’t pay 10 bucks a month. Get the school kids out with ”save the earth” posters who last year had Pokemon posters and cant even tidy up their own rooms while lecturing us while holding IPhones that use up Carbon from the Cloud. You want the cops to arrest cars that are idling. Why not arrest the kids driving their cars to school instead of using yellow buses.

  10. If you want to make a difference for the environment, then do something about the private jet traffic. Private jets are a huge offender when it comes to carbon emissions. The airport commission should levy a carbon tax on private jets, and use that money to fund environmental projects.

    • robby– by all means– first step towards reducing carbon emissions– ban private jet travel…A no brainer—

  11. While I laud the instinct of those who join these groups who want to do something, I can’t help but think that this is just a giant coordinated effort to create support for “Vineyard Wind” and other giant wind installations. The forgone conclusion of these committees will be to recommend wind farms to help towards this lofty but unattainable goal of 100% renewable energy. It is a good marketing strategy, but falls short of solving our actual environmental crises, and in fact will create more. In the mean time, we’ve leased our oceans to giant energy companies and are blinded by their promises of 100% clean energy.

    Unfortunately, beyond being a lofty slogan, 100% renewable energy is not an attainable goal. There is no storage on the grid – energy supply must be balanced with energy demand in real time. “Renewable” energy sources such as wind and solar are variable, and there supply can only randomly corelate with demand at any given moment in time. What’s more – energy companies must keep dispatchable fossil fuels online at all times in case the wind doesn’t blow, and the sun doesn’t shine.

    Do we all wish we could will 100% renewable to be so? Yes – of course. However, the promise of 100% renewable energy a soothing mirage that keeps us from digging deeper and finding real solutions. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we are able to start making real progress.

    • observer– ok, wind won’t do it– what do you suggest for “real solutions” ?
      As for storage on the grid, there is real work going on about that. One idea is that electric cars and trucks could be used to mitigate peak demands. years ago, I lived in a house that had a peak demand meter for the water heater. The water heater was off during peak demand times, and I got a reduced rate on the power the water heated used– A great idea, but I think the electric companies don’t do that anymore.

      • Real solutions must involve first an understanding of where there is waste and inefficiency in the system, and then address that waste and inefficiency head on. Reduction of consumption = step one. Step two is to fully comprehend that the way we use energy is not sustainable. We live in a fossil fuel hallucination. This is a blip in time where we have cheap, abundant energy. We need to start preparing for the reality that energy will become less available. “Renewable” energy will play a part, but relatively small part in this. People would be wise when they get solar installations to not only be grid connected, but be able to go off grid, as well.

        The idea that we can just swap wind turbines for every form of energy we currently use comes from a profound lack of understanding about energy and electric grids.

    • “100% renewable energy a soothing mirage.” I think there is something to this. Wait! Hear me out, please. I remember the physics of entropy from when I was an undergrad. Not the chaos entropy, but the entropy of being the loss of being capable to convert heat into the ability to do work. Take carbon as an example. If one sets fire to something a matchstick, a log, a gallon of propane, or that pint of gasoline, what one cannot do, as of today, is put those carbon atoms back in an order that resembles the original stuff. The sun is a good example. (Okay, only a teeny bit of carbon, and mostly hydrogen come helium.) The point is that while it is consistent enough for a lon time, it is always just a little bit less than when you first read this post. Where am I going with this? I don’t know, oh, wait. Island Observer’s call for real progress. “Renewable” in quotation marks is accurate. “100 percent renewable is an oxymoron of theoretical physics. Realistic expectations can lead to real solutions. That, and no one had better try to take away my rib steak. Keep your hands off my bourbon, too.

  12. dondondon. Here are my solutions: Don’t drive or fly. Don’t use chemicals for air conditioning and refrigeration. Don’t eat meat or drink milk. Don’t heat your house, use blankets. Don’t have children. Use natural cotton in clothing, no polyester. Accept the fact that youth confers authority. Use the power of the state to confiscate and forbid.

    • Andrew– good suggestions. But you and I both know individual sacrifices will not do it. t has to be legislated. I have a bicycle with an electric assist so I ride it more rather than use my car that gets 40 mpg. I fly less than once a year, I heat my house with wood that is already down for reasons other than just to provide firewood, and live at about 67 degrees in the winter. My house is not air conditioned, I have very few clothing items that have some polyester in them ( winter jackets and long underwear so I can keep the house cooler). I eat very little meat, and own stock in “beyond meat” (bynd) I drink almond milk. I had one child and I respect the rights of future generations. I agree that the “state” should forbid certain things, like renting a 747 to fly 8 people coast to coast for a weekend getaway, or burning your used tires in your back yard.
      I don’t see what the state should confiscate however– perhaps you have some specific things in mind ?
      So, how am I doing ? How about you ?

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