MVC suggests ‘more flexible’ language for energy policy

Meeting 100 percent renewable energy, both on or off-site, may be impossible for certain applicants.

Ben Robinson goes over the draft DRI energy policy with fellow Martha’s Vineyard Commissioners.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) is continuing its review of the draft development of regional impact (DRI) energy policy, which seeks to mitigate the effects of climate change by minimizing fossil fuel use and maximizing resiliency through local energy production.

The commission’s energy policy is nonbinding, but it gives applicants a better idea of what the commission would like to see in a project. Commissioners can then use the energy policy to weigh the benefits and detriments of a project.

Commissioner Ben Robinson said at Thursday’s commission meeting that the policy is a way to set the bar for applicants regarding energy use and local energy production.

“Some applicants will find it quite easy to meet, others might have issues that we hadn’t anticipated,” Robinson said.

He stressed that the policy can be flexible when applied to certain projects, particularly those where conditions are such that 100 percent onsite renewable is difficult to achieve, or potentially impossible. “This is a direction we have to head in — where we can hold the line, we will hold the line, and where we need to be flexible, we will be flexible,” Robinson said.

With the goal of mitigating fossil fuels use in DRIs, Robinson said there are situations where all-electric systems are not the most efficient or financially viable. “This policy is flexible if an applicant comes along and they have a situation that doesn’t quite neatly fit the way we have written this policy. We are willing to listen and understand their position,” Robinson said.

Currently, the Island is getting about 8 percent of its energy from alternative sources like solar and wind. To be resilient as an Island, Robinson said the Vineyard should be more in the realm of receiving 40 percent of energy from renewable sources.

He added that the DRI energy policy also aims at facilitating the adoption of electric vehicles for projects like new residential apartments or mixed-use developments, where there are designated parking spots for people who live there. “They need to have the ability to charge an electric vehicle if they want to purchase one,” Robinson said.

This ambition also serves to electrify fleet vehicles for businesses.

As the commission sees applications, Robinson said, they might need to look for outside expertise until commissioners are up to snuff on how to apply this policy during the review process.

He said the policy shouldn’t be seen as a burden for applicants, but instead should set a bar for individual energy generation and implementation of energy-efficient building practices. “It’s an economical decision to do this. You are actually reducing your energy costs long-term,” Robinson said.

Commissioner Fred Hancock said 90 percent of the DRIs the commission reviews are projects in town business or commercial districts, and the idea that they could all meet the goal of 100 percent renewable energy needs through local generation “just isn’t possible.”

“With the way we want the buildings to look, and the size of the lots available, I think we need to have a more flexible standard for businesses in business districts in towns,” Hancock said. 

Additionally, he said, if the commission is asking people at this stage in their permitting process to provide a full plan set with electrical designs oriented toward renewable energy, “that is a big stretch.”

“In a lot of cases, applicants are just feeling themselves out in terms of floor space, and seeing if they get approval for the project before they go into a developed plan set,” Hancock said. While he said the aspiration of 100 percent renewable energy is “very laudable,” certain situations can render that impossible.

He suggested language that gives additional leeway to applicants for commercial development in town business districts, and stressed that for most cases, 100 percent renewable is “too high.” 

“You have a much more intimidating document that will tend to get [the applicants’] back up, and not elicit cooperation,” he said. 

Commissioner Linda Sibley said the paragraph in the policy regarding 100 percent onsite renewable energy generation “could be improved.”

“I think you could word this in a way that helps [the applicant] find their way to being able to support and purchase renewable generated electricity, not saying that you have to produce it all yourself, or even that you have to get renewable energy generated elsewhere on-Island, because that might not be possible,” she said.

Robinson said there are ways to purchase renewably generated electricity from the ISO New England grid, which could be an alternative avenue for applicants who don’t have the potential for local energy generation.

But Robinson said the commission wants to build resiliency on the Island, “and the DRI process is our tool toward that. This is an ask that has to be made. We need to move off of fossil fuels.”

Sibley acknowledged that the policy is flexible, but said the language in the draft document should be changed to reflect that. 

“If nothing else, we need to make this sound easier to do,” she said. “Right now, I would have no idea how to provide for equivalent renewable generation capacity on the Island.”

Commissioner Kathy Newman said some of the language in the document referring to 100 percent onsite generation, or an offsite equivalent, “feels sort of authoritarian in a way.”

She said she would be willing to assist the energy policy committee in creating language that is more participatory, and suggested potentially creating a list of terms for people who aren’t well-versed in renewable energy building. Robinson said he could create some supplements that help applicants better understand various aspects of the policy.

He added that data collected from applicants after they go through the DRI process will be used to better understand how to provide enough flexibility to find compliance for the renewable energy generation piece.

In order to build resiliency on-Island and make meaningful steps toward mitigating climate change, Robinson said, people are going to have to change their conventional way of thinking and make the necessary changes to their building practices.

“We kept the language at 100 percent because we realized the necessity to build that resiliency on the Island. Also, energy created by solar panels pays off; we already know that,” Robinson said. 

Although commissioner Jeff Agnoli said he thinks the document is forward-looking, and necessary to address the grave, existential dangers posed by climate change, the wording in the passage related to 100 percent renewable energy could be altered.

“I think this is an exceptional document for going forward to meet what we are recognizing is an enormous problem that requires people to do things differently,” Agnoli said.

The energy policy committee will reconvene, make any necessary changes resulting from the discussion, and return to the full commission for a recommendation at their next meeting. 

In other business, the MVC will look for interested commissioners to volunteer for an information liaison representative role on the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank (CCMVHB).

Julie Fay, co-chair of the coalition’s steering committee, said she hopes the representative from the commission will be someone who can provide a feedback loop to the CCMVHB design committee, while also keeping the MVC informed on the status of the coalition. 

The commission also approved an extension request for the DRI related to demolition of the old West Tisbury town hall and library buildings. Amendments to the Cape Poge district of critical planning concern were also discussed, with a public hearing scheduled for March 11.


  1. It is a joke that the MVC policies are non binding and just a policy. Anyone who follows the deliberations by the current MVC commissioners soon find out they treat their policy like law. Seldom do they ever go against the policy. Lets call this what it is a new heavy handed requirement if you come before the MVC. I must of missed the vote that the island wants to be 100 fossil free. Plenty of the language I hear is opinions which keep being repeated until we are suppose to think they are true. The book 1984 was not suppose to be a blueprint to follow.

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