Aquinnah discusses next steps in sustainability

Town looks to overhaul energy infrastructure and improve public facilities.

Bill Lake of the Aquinnah Energy and Climate Committee discusses the town’s energy goals. — Lucas Thors

Aquinnah selectmen met with Bill Lake of the Aquinnah energy and climate committee to discuss next steps in greening the town.

Lake said the Vineyard sustainable energy committee is sponsoring a warrant article that would establish an Island-wide aspirational goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. 

“Climate change is here, and the impacts are accelerating,” Lake said. “Nobody should be more in tune with climate change [than] those on the Island.”

According to Lake, Yale University conducted a study in Dukes County that indicated a substantial majority of people on the Island believe global warming is affecting our way of life.

The warrant article would establish a resolution with three central goals. The first would be to reduce fossil-fuel use on the Island from a 2018 baseline by 50 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040. The second goal would be to increase the percentage of renewable energy on-Island to 50 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040. The final objective of the resolution would be to establish regenerative agriculture and landscape practices that would draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas pollution. 

One big step toward reducing fossil-fuel use, according to Lake, is to electrify transportation, along with heating and cooling in public buildings and homes. Lake also said decarbonizing the energy infrastructure in town would make it more resilient.

“The technology to do all this is available, and becoming increasingly more cost-effective,” Lake said. “Heat pumps for heating and cooling have lower energy costs than fossil fuels.”

The principal obstacle to this initiative is inertia, Lake said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘2040 is too far in the future’, but at the same time they say, ‘We can’t possibly do that in 20 years,’” he said.

Since the warrant article sets an aspirational goal, Lake said, no one is going to have their propane grills taken away.

“We are not requiring anybody to do anything, we just want people to consider these goals within the community,” Lake said. “We should see this as an economic opportunity, as opposed to an economic obstacle.”

Once the Vineyard is deemed a green Island, Lake said, the destination will become more attractive to visitors.

In order for this initiative to bear fruit, Lake said town committees and departments will need to have climate action in the back of their minds during every decisionmaking process. “Town leaders will have to work across town boundaries in order to get the appropriate mix of town action and regional action,” Lake said. 

In other business, town officials are considering next steps for improvements to town-owned facilities such as the town hall and public restrooms at the Gay Head Cliffs.

Town administrator Jeff Madison said he believes the time to act is now. “This year, we must transfer money from the stabilization fund that will fund planning and drawings for these improvements,” Madison said.

One of the town’s goals is to connect the town hall, town offices, and the fire station together by way of an addition.

“We need to put together a presentation to the town that will ultimately lead toward borrowing for the restrooms, and the addition here to connect these buildings,” Madison said.

According to Madison, the town has set aside money in the stabilization fund for situations like this. “We can get some money to design and plan the buildings without affecting the tax rate,” Madison said.

Within the next three weeks, Madison said, the town is going to have to establish a plan to hire a planner who can draft a plan to present at town meeting.

“If we aggressively pursue this, it is conceivable that the improvements here at the town hall and at the restrooms could be in place by the end of 2023,” Madison said.

Lighthouse woes

Selectmen also discussed initial repairs to the Gay Head Lighthouse lantern room in the amount of $125,000. That money will be used to remove and repair or replace cracking glass panes and failing metal mullions, then determine how much it will cost to repair the rest of the room.

“There hasn’t been anything done up there in 150 years. You have to develop priorities,” Madison said. “You saved the lighthouse from falling off the cliffs; are we going to let it crumble into itself? You signed on to own the lighthouse and manage it — this is what it costs.”

According to selectman Gary Haley, until it is determined how much labor and materials will be required to fix the rest of the room, the full restoration is estimated to cost up to $640,000 for the entire lantern room.