It was an unusual week in front of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for the developers of a $1.1 million, 210-killowatt solar canopy project over the parking lots at Cronig’s Market in Vineyard Haven. Last Thursday commissioners wondered aloud why there wasn’t more opposition to the project, then on Monday the commission announced that it faced a possible conflict of interest and would likely delay a vote on the project.
The applicants for the development project are the community-based energy cooperative Vineyard Power and Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier. South Mountain Company will install the canopies. The project will be built in two phases, with two solar canopies planned for above the Healthy Additions parking lot this spring, and another over the Cronig’s lot in the fall. The arrays will also feature six electric car charging stations. Vineyard Power is leasing the land from Mr. Bernier to build the array, which will supply a quarter of the energy needs for the grocery store.
Of the 15 voting members of the MVC, 11 are members of the cooperative. The cooperative, which currently counts 1,200 members on the Vineyard, hopes to eventually recruit 15,000 members and return the savings from solar and large scale-wind projects to Islanders in the form of lower energy bills.
On Monday, land use planning committee chairman Doug Sederholm announced that the commission must wait for an opinion from the state ethics commission before voting on the project. Mr. Sederholm said the commission had been advised by its counsel to seek an ethics commission ruling after the unusual circumstances were brought to light at a public hearing last Thursday.
“If everyone recused themselves we couldn’t vote on this project,” he said.
Vineyard Power was an offspring of the commission’s 2009 Island Plan.
“It [Vineyard Power] was the direct response to a recommendation in the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Island Plan, which called for the creation of a community-owned renewable energy cooperative,” Vineyard Power president Richard Andre said at last week’s hearing.
Despite the legal tangle, on Monday the land use planning committee voted to recommend approval of the project to the full commission.
The recommendation comes after a poorly-attended public hearing last week that prompted some commissioners to worry aloud about the lack of public opinion on the project, either for or against. At the hearing Tisbury resident Bill Straw was the lone critic of the project saying that the aesthetics of the project were better suited to Fort Lauderdale than Martha’s Vineyard.
“There certainly doesn’t seem to be an outcry of public concern about this project, but I’m curious whether people are really paying a lot of attention,” said commissioner Linda Sibley. “Given how intensely people reacted to the roundabout as being a foreign object in our midst, I don’t know.”
At the end of the hearing Mr. Sederholm extended an invitation to the audience of MVTV to submit comments on the project. On Monday, South Mountain Company president John Abrams criticized what he saw as Mr. Sederholm’s unwarranted solicitation of criticism.
“When you looked at the camera on Thursday,” he said to Mr. Sederholm, “and said, ‘If you feel like this looks like Fort Lauderdale please comment,’ that seemed a little leading. It was pretty provocative.”
Mr. Abrams noted that Mr. Straw has affiliations with the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, as well as a separate solar company. And at a selectmen’s meeting in Tisbury on Tuesday Mr. Straw in fact suggested the board look into installing solar canopies over the town Park and Ride, citing the positive experience of the Philadelphia Eagles organization which installed them in their parking lots.
By noon on Monday the commission had received some correspondence, most of it in favor of the plan.
The commission was scheduled to decide on the project last night but Mr. Sederholm said the date for a decision was up in the air pending a ruling from the ethics commission.