Charge ahead

6

We are talking a good game on the Island when it comes to dealing with climate change and sea level rise, and the impacts both could have on the Vineyard moving forward.

All six towns endorsed a nonbinding article in 2021, setting aspirational goals that the Island would seek to become powered by 100 percent renewable energy. The goals were to reduce fossil fuel use on the Island by 50 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040. Along with those goals, the referendum sought to increase the use of renewable energy sources to 50 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission established a Climate Action Task Force, and hired a climate action planner in Liz Durkee. Earlier this year, Durkee introduced a Climate Action Plan called “The Vineyard Way” that proposes some steps that can be taken moving forward.

The commission also recently added an energy planner through a grant from the Vineyard Vision Fellowship. 

The VTA deserves some credit for leading the way when it comes to removing fossil fuel buses from the Island’s roads. Not only has the regional bus service been an important part of getting more vehicles off the road, but it has made a real commitment to electric buses. (Fun fact: If you’ve never used the VTA, this would be a good month to give it a try. The VTA, like regional bus services across the commonwealth, is offering free bus rides through the end of this month to promote the use of public transportation.) At the VTA’s headquarters near the airport, there are also solar canopies that generate electricity. 

Contrast that with the Steamship Authority, which is years away from electrification of its fleet of ferries. (The SSA is adding electric buses, and has solar canopies at its Thomas B. Landers parking lot, and a proposal to do the same at its Palmer Avenue lot.) The three new vessels that have been purchased will be traditional fossil-fuel-run ferries, with the SSA saying that the infrastructure in port communities does not exist to consider electric ferries.

So with all the VTA is doing, we were disappointed in the West Tisbury select board’s response last week when the Vineyard Transit Authority came before them about a charging station needed for its growing fleet of electric buses.

We should learn a lesson or two from what happened in Edgartown. A lot of angst was generated over the siting of the charging station on Church Street, but in the end you’d barely know a charging station is located there, now that the project is completed. The VTA and its contractors did a good job of maintaining the character of that street, despite some of the rhetoric.

The public can — and probably will — nitpick every possible location in West Tisbury for the transformer. But that’s not productive, especially when time is of the essence.

The VTA had hoped to just switch out the existing transformer, but that proved too complicated.

Issues with other options left just one for VTA administrator Angie Gompert to present to the select board, which would tie a new transformer, located on the town hall side of Music Street, into an existing utility pole on Music Street on the church side of the street.

After describing the landscaping and how the door of the transformer would have to be left unblocked, board members expressed concerns about “cluttering up and closing in a beautiful open space.”

While we understand the concerns of the town, we can also grasp the frustrations expressed by Gompert about the amount of power — no pun intended — wielded by Eversource.

“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,” she told the board.

The select board should use its bully pulpit to get the utility to work with the VTA to generate a solution that meets the needs of everyone involved — and quickly.

We’ve got goals and aspirations to meet. Talk is cheap. We have to start making some significant changes, and stop putting hurdles in the way of progress. The VTA is trying, and we as a community have to help push the roadblocks aside and keep the electric buses rolling.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The war in Ukraine is draining U.S. arms stockpiles while geopolitical risks grow. Yet the Biden Administration is worried about—you can’t make this up—the climate impact of U.S. weapons and wants to impose costly green mandates on federal contractors.

  2. A bus charging station in West Tis would really help the vta get more of their diesel busses off the road. Simple as that. If there is enough of a will, there is a way.
    Just do it.

  3. Why do they need a charger for their buses in West Tisbury?

    Why does it have to be at the Town Hall, messing up that picturesque area?

  4. BTW, do the editorial writers at the Times have a clue as to what would be involved to run SSA ferries on renewables?
    Do they understand that basically renewables rely on oil and other nonrenewables?
    Has the Times done a calculation of how much land must be dug up to provide the lithium for the gigantic batteries that would be necessary to power our ferries?

    Asking for a friend.

    • Katherine — If you look at the Church street charging station in Edgartown, you will see virtually nothing except 2 transformers with a combined size that is less than an average suv located about 30 ft off the roadway. While it is not completely silent, it is quieter than an in window a/c unit.
      The West Tisbury town hall already has a transformer that faces music street. Another one of similar size is all that is needed for the charging station that will be flush with the roadway. Nothing about this picturesque area will be messed up.

      And then there is the more complicated issue of converting the ssa to electricity.
      I think we can both agree that having a transformer that would be about the size of a school bus and a required on land battery that may be of similar size would not mess up that picturesque terminal.
      But you have a point about the batteries. Currently about 46 % of the electricity generated in New England comes from natural gas, 24 % from nuclear and 8 % from renewables.
      Those numbers are always changing. The renewable percentage will continue to rise, especially as offshore wind is developed, and the price of solar panels continues to drop.
      Fortunately, Less than one % of our power comes from coal– talk about digging up land. !
      Yes, there is a heavy environmental cost associated with producing lithium and other materials to build batteries. No doubt about it.
      But transporting nearly a million gallons of diesel to the ferries every year also comes at an environmental cost. It takes quite a bit of diesel fuel to get that fuel from miles beneath the gulf of Mexico, refined, pumped into pipelines, loaded onto trucks and driven hundreds of miles on our highways and ultimately end up rolling into woods hole at 5 AM and waking the residents there. Just think of how many truck tires are worn out transporting a million gallons of fuel over perhaps hundreds of thousands of miles. And how much energy is used to produce a new truck every 10 years or so, and safely maintain it ?
      Forget the issue of local air quality and climate change; I would prefer not to have to move on the deck of ssa vessels every time they change direction to get out of the plume of exhaust gasses.
      We also know that there are disruptions and accidents involved in every aspect associated with the production and transportation of volatile fuels. Kansas is currently cleaning up after the keystone pipeline leaked 588,000 gallons of highly toxic oil into a picturesque stream.
      Just look at what happened to the price of gas when Russia invaded Ukraine.
      That event had absolutely no effect on the municipal buildings of the various towns on M.V that get a significant percentage of their electricity from the solar farms they installed years ago, or people who have solar panels on their roofs to charge their electric cars.
      If Russia decides to escalate the war in Ukraine and toss a few tactical nukes around, you can be sure the price of diesel fuel will double or triple in a week.

      Yes Katherine–If we are going to use energy, it is a messy business any way we go.
      I won’t deny it.
      I just ask that you look at both sides of the coin.
      Respect

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