The West Tisbury select board balked at a potential location for a Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) transformer for its electric bus fleet, sending the regional transit authority back to the drawing board.
During the Wednesday, Nov. 30, select board meeting, the board reviewed a map made by Boston-based engineering consulting firm Arup, which proposed placing the transformer for the electric bus equipment on Music Street behind the West Tisbury Town Hall. This is a change from the previously proposed location.
“Our hope was to basically switch out the existing transformer that is just off the bus circle, if you will, and just have one transformer on the property,” VTA administrator Angie Gompert said about the initial plan. “That situation got much more complicated, and then Eversource deemed that not an option that could happen.”
According to Gompert, the VTA plans to install a single transformer, alongside other requirements, in a single phase. However, Eversource did not have the capacity to run an additional service at the proposed location, which adjoins Music Street and State Road. In this area, Eversource would have had to run as a new service, and “put town hall operations out of commission for a significant period of time.”
“So the next best location for Eversource and for the VTA is a telephone pole that’s existing on Music Street, on the church side of the street,” Gompert said. “This plan leaves the existing transformer, and does not tie in the bus service to the building service, which has pros and cons for sure. We would then have service from this new pole to a new transformer placed on the … town hall side of the street on Music Street, which we would then shield with additional landscaping.”
The 500-kilowatt transformer, the size the VTA has at its facility, has a 5-foot by 6-foot pad, and is “not more than 6 feet” in height. Gompert said Eversource requires the front door, which would face toward the town hall, “to have 10 feet of clearance,” so that if it gets too hot, workers can “use a long stick to slide open the doors and shut it off.” Additional plantings would cover three-fourths of the space for “adequate coverage of everything,” so the area remains “pretty.”
At board chair Cynthia Mitchell’s request, Gompert also provided a timeline for the project. “Timelines continue to get more and more complicated,” Gompert said. The 300-kilowatt cabinet that “would control the two chargers in the ground at the bus stop” is expected to arrive “no later than January of 2023.” Gompert hopes to start the site work for the underground chargers and the conduit work during the VTA’s slower schedule, which begins on Jan. 1. A temporary switchgear, which is currently powering the Edgartown charging station, would power the conduits. Edgartown’s permanent switchgear is scheduled to ship on March 23. The temporary switchgear is expected to be commissioned for West Tisbury in April. “We have asked Eversource for an install date of the transformer, pending all approvals, no later than May 1 of 2023,” Gompert continued. West Tisbury’s permanent switchgear is expected to arrive in 2024.
Board member Skipper Manter was concerned that this plan would take away open space from the town. “You put the transformer back there, and you put the trees around it. To me, it’s cluttering up and closing in a beautiful open space,” he said.
West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said another spot on Music Street was considered that would block the view of the town hall rather than the playground area, but it ran the risk of killing one or more of the mature trees in the area. Another location that was considered but was let go had too many underground systems already in place, such as a manhole, according to Gompert. These alternative possibilities were also discussed with Eversource.
“Eversource’s requirement is it has to be able to drop the transformer in its location and then have … that 10-foot clearance on the side. They will not bring a crane or anything else to set transformer equipment,” Gompert said.
When Manter questioned why Eversource would not allow this, Gompert replied, “I don’t know why in Massachusetts utility companies have as much muscle as they do, for lack of a better expression right now, but … they seem to have an unfair number of cards from the end user, so to speak, because of the way it’s regulated. There’s a lot of rules, and a lot of those rules don’t come up until the application’s in and they actually come out to review it, which is frustrating and expensive.”
Board member Jessica Miller agreed with Manter’s “seeming discomfort with the location.”
“I, for one, would be inclined if Eversource would consider to go to that location below and risk a tree or two, because a tree can be replanted,” Miller said.
Mitchell also agreed, reaching a consensus among the board members that this was an undesirable location.
West Tisbury treasurer Kathy Logue said the 10-foot clearance may not be cleared of underground systems either, although this would need to be double-checked.
Manter was also not convinced that a construction vehicle cannot be driven in for the project on Music Street, closer to the trees.
“I think it was wise to have brought it here first before we go to the historic district commission, because I think all three of us are not liking that location,” Mitchell said.
Gompert said she will revisit details with Eversource, and have her electrical engineers draw up more plans. Additionally, she will try to get Eversource representatives to West Tisbury to figure out a better option.
In other business, the board unanimously approved sending a letter requesting “permission to issue third quarter fiscal year 2023 preliminary real estate tax bills” from the state Department of Revenue.
The board unanimously approved appointment of Kate Warner to the Eversource working group and Patrick Barrett to the West TIsbury zoning board of appeals as an associate member. It also reappointed Ernie Thomas to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.
The board unanimously approved State Road Restaurant and Plane View’s annual beer and wine license renewals. Additionally, the board unanimously approved State Road Restaurant’s request to close from Feb. 19 to March 25, 2023.