Hub of innovation targets sustainability

Hannemann and Cahir present a webinar on efforts on the Cape and Islands.

Rob Hannemann, shown here giving a presentation to the Chilmark board of selectmen, participated in a webinar about the goal of having 100 percent of the Vineyard's energy come from sustainable sources. - Rich Saltzberg

On Tuesday, Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center, a nonprofit focused on research and public education around sustainability issues, hosted a webinar that recognized local efforts toward achieving a more environmentally efficient future on the Cape and Islands.

Rob Hannemann of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Climate Action Task Force and Thomas Cahir, administrator for the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA), presented as part of the Renewable Communities 2020 series. The webinar, “Cape & Islands: Hub of Innovation,” was livestreamed on Facebook, as well as broadcast over Zoom. 

Hannemann, chair of the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee, collaborated with several others on the task force earlier this summer to deliver a series of papers that outline the group’s envisioned path to a more green future for the Vineyard. 

During the webinar, Hannemann shared several key aspects of the task force’s plans to achieve a carbon-free Vineyard.

“We are beginning to make change at the town level and at the regional level, both in public and private entities,” said Hannemann. “The first step was to establish goals. We formalized our goals at the regional [level] in the Martha’s Vineyard Commission last year in 2019.”

Hannemann laid out the goals established by the task force, including to reduce fossil fuel use on the Island by 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040, and to alter the electricity supply to be 50 percent clean by 2030, and 100 percent renewable by 2040. 

“The second step was to establish our baseline, and the broad strategy of how we’re going to approach achieving those goals,” said Hannemann. The report released by the task force earlier this summer established that energy makes up 22.7 percent of the Island’s carbon footprint, transportation makes up 45.5 percent, and building HVAC makes up 31.8 percent.

“Our next step is to establish an all-Island model to assess the impact of various strategies,” said Hannemann. “We have a model where we can get various scenarios, and really understand the scenarios that will allow us to meet the goals. Once that is in place, and that’s within the next two weeks, we will move on to the next step, which is to develop tactics to reach the goals.”

The fourth step, according to Hannemann, is “the long march” to reaching the goal of 100 percent renewable energy on the Island.

Cahir described the work of the CCRTA, which provides bus service to Cape Cod towns, in addressing emissions by the transportation industry. 

“Solar became an issue of interest to us several years ago,” said Cahir. The CCRTA completed a solar panel installation at the Hyannis Transportation Center in fall 2019. The installation is projected to reduce the center’s carbon footprint by 93 percent. The CCRTA has also built new bus shelters with solar panels, a wind turbine at its operations facility in Dennis, an electric vehicle charging station at the Hyannis Transportation Center, and new fuel-efficient, handicap-accessible minivans.

The CCRTA also seeks to encourage use of public transit to limit carbon emissions in Cape communities.

“Ridership is impacted by the pandemic, but it’s still something we keep in mind,” said Cahir. “We can’t switch over to electric vehicles totally overnight, and we need to implement all types of measures that can help in this climate change world that we live in now.”

Hannemann lauded the work of Angie Grant, administrator of the Vineyard Transit Authority, in the VTA’s efforts to address bus emissions.

“We have an aggressive plan on the Island to have 100 percent of our busses electric by 2028. That is moving forward, because a quarter of them are already electric,” said Hannemann.

Renewable Communities 2020 is a series of three webinars that features the sustainability-based efforts of those working toward achieving 100 percent renewable energy in Massachusetts towns. According to the description page, during the webinars, “speakers will share their successes and challenges, and what lessons other communities can learn from their experiences.” The webinars will also highlight any pending legislation at the state level that may contribute toward the group’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy throughout the state. 

“We are organizing these webinars to celebrate local progress and clean energy,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center. Each webinar highlights particular case studies of clean energy progress within Massachusetts.

Hellerstein explained how climate change has been revealed to be not just a problem for the future, but for today. 

“We actually just learned recently in the past few months that air pollution from fossil fuels is linked toward a higher rate of deaths from COVID,” said Hellerstein. 

Hellerstein gave several examples of clean energy resources, citing offshore wind and solar energy as two promising potential resources.

“With offshore wind power alone, we could generate 19 times the electricity the state of Massachusetts uses every year,” added Hellerstein. “Just with rooftop solar panels alone, we could generate up to 47 percent of Massachusetts’ electricity.”

Hellerstein highlighted why the Cape and Islands have acted as leaders in clean energy pursuits. 

According to Hellerstein, there are abundant clean energy resources available on the Cape and Islands, and local energy production is a better alternative to importing fossil fuels from far away. The Cape and Islands also have a strong track record of energy-efficiency programs. Hellerstein also added, “Climate change is a tangible threat.”

Similarly, Hannemann described how the consequences of climate change will be felt by the Vineyard in dramatic ways if no changes are made. “As an Island, Martha’s Vineyard expects to be on the forefront of climate change and climate change impacts in particular,” said Hannemann.

Hannemann spoke to the Vineyard’s unique potential to make lasting changes in regard to carbon emissions on-Island.

“We’re a small community, but it turns out we’re a small community that does not make the practice of being passive free riders on other people’s work. We have the opportunity for some leadership in setting the example regionally and at the commonwealth level,” said Hannemann. “My motivation for this is quite simple. Dealing with climate change and transforming our energy system so it is no longer a pollution machine is basically social justice for future generations.”

“On the Vineyard, we are at the very end of the energy pipeline and the energy supply chain,” added Hannemann. “We are totally conscious of being cut off, and resilience is a really important piece in the way we’re looking at adapting to climate change. That’s one of the reasons why our partnership with Eversource is so important, because they’re our supplier, but we’re going to be moving quickly to generate more and more electricity to provide some of that resilience.” 

There are two more webinars in the series: “Clean and efficient transportation for Greater Boston,” on Friday, July 24, and “Fossil-fuel-free buildings,” on Thursday, July 28. All webinars will take place over Zoom. Those interested in participating may register on the group’s RSVP page.