Updated May 17
The Vineyard Transportation Authority held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday for a series of solar canopies it erected at its facility at the Airport Business Park.
The event was also a celebration of the electrification process the VTA has embarked on with its fleet. In front of a crowd gathered on the tarmac of the facility with the new canopies in the background, VTA advisory board chair Alice Butler said after four years of toil, the VTA has 12 electric buses in service, with four more coming next month. Butler said the buses and the electrical infrastructure that accompanies them will “drastically reduce emissions on the Island, save the VTA thousands of dollars in operational, maintenance, and fueling costs,” and also have the “added benefit of providing emergency power during natural disasters.”
To date, Butler said, the electric fleet has “reduced the VTA’s gas emission by over 3 million pounds and saved us over $24,000 in energy costs.”
VTA administrator Angie Gompert said the canopies are the product of collaborative work with Borrego Solar and many others.
“This was a complicated project,” Gompert said. “We now have buses driving around Martha’s Vineyard being powered by the sunshine Mother Nature blessed us with today. We’re into this together for the long haul, and I look forward to it.”
With the canopies, Butler said, the VTA maintenance personnel now have the capacity to charge 40 buses, seven vans, and six cars. The next step, she said, was “en route charging across the Island,” because the range of the electric buses is not enough to serve all the routes without induction charging stations set at various points around the Vineyard.
“These en route induction chargers will go in-ground, and are designed to fit into the current landscape,” she said.
VTA bus driver Andre Bonnell told the crowd the transition from traditional buses to electric buses was like going from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. Bonnell said drivers and passengers alike appreciated the reliable heat and air conditioning that comes with the electric buses. He urged voters to back the Church Street charging station at the annual Edgartown town meeting. That station is one of the en route induction stations Butler referred to, and has been controversial among some neighbors.
Meredith Slesinger, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) acting administrator of rail and transit, said the “VTA is a model for its peers in creating one of the first fully integrated and resilient electrical public transportation systems.” Sleisinger went on to say it’s been exciting for MassDOT to work with the VTA, and she looks forward to further collaboration: “We are so excited about this project here on the Vineyard,”
Galen Nelson, chief program officer of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), also spoke. “Electrifying medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, including transit buses, is a really tough challenge financially and logistically, [and] technically, given the emerging nature of this industry,” Nelson said. “So it’s particularly commendable that Angie and her team showed leadership and took this challenge on now. You are really climate pioneers and innovators in clean transportation. And not only did you electrify your buses, but you chose a really ambitious and thoughtful approach to integrate solar PV, energy storage, and a microgrid into this innovative project, which is of course in line with the commonwealth’s broader climate and resilience goals.”
Jim Pietras, head of operations and business-to-business delivery at Enel X, a company that partnered with the VTA to realize its microgrid, was present at the ceremony, and issued a statement Monday.
“We are incredibly proud to support VTA, MassCEC, and the Department of Transportation in delivering a cleaner, more resilient Transit Authority to Martha’s Vineyard,” Pietras wrote. “As we see states across the country adopt zero-emissions vehicle targets, Massachusetts continues to lead the way toward a clean energy economy. What this project and others like it demonstrate is the success of public/private partnerships to help accelerate the clean energy transition to drive economic growth, support job creation, and bring clean energy and health benefits like improved air quality and reduced noise to a community that shares our commitments to sustainability.”
On Friday, Bill Veno, senior planner at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, who said he’s been commuting to work for about a decade on the VTA, called the electrification project “practical” as well as “resourceful and imaginative.”
Gompert gave copious thanks to her staff and to partners, contractors, officials, and VTA ridership. She gave a special shout-out to friends and family, many of whom were in the audience. “I appreciate your love and support more than you’ll ever know,” she said.
Updated with additional comments.