With Edgartown in the lead, the Vineyard is poised to join with Nantucket and Cong. William Delahunt in pushing for the establishment of an offshore energy zone to harness wind, wave and possibly tidal energy from waters between the two Islands.
The move is a first step toward the goal of making the Islands energy independent.
The plan seeks to find an economically feasible way to generate 2,000 megawatts of power, and would work through legislation cosponsored by Mr. Delahunt which would provide extra research money for renewable energy projects.
The Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Promotion Act would provide loans to develop new technologies and extend renewable energy tax credits to utilities. It would also pump $50 million a year into marine energy research for 10 years, according to a press release from Mr. Delahunt's office this week.
And the Edgartown selectmen are first on the Island to embrace the idea.
In a letter sent to Mr. Delahunt yesterday, the selectmen conveyed their enthusiastic support.
"We are aware that the Nantucket Planning and Economic Development Commission has already endorsed the development of a plan for an area that is roughly 30 square miles in federal waters, three miles south of Tuckernuck Island off Nantucket. We are interested in seeing the area enlarged so that it comes to waters off the south shore of Edgartown," the selectmen wrote. The letter continues:
"We are well aware of the tidal energy potential available in Muskeget channel and recommend that attention should be given to expanding this zone into this area of state waters if possible."
The issue was raised at the regular selectmen's meeting on Monday by selectman Arthur Smadbeck, who said the town and the Vineyard as a whole would be foolish not to get involved, given the Island's status as what he termed the Saudi Arabia of wind.
While the Edgartown letter refers to the goal of 2,000 megawatts, the energy needs of the Vineyard are nothing like that. Five megawatts would provide all of Edgartown's electricity needs.
Given that over time a wind turbine's average production is about one-third of its rated maximum output, it would require generating capacity of about 15 megawatts for Edgartown, and about five times that for the whole Vineyard.
The selectmen were told that in Germany there are turbines in development that produce about five kilowatts each, so three such wind turbines could theoretically power Edgartown.
Mr. Smadbeck also spoke enthusiastically about the possibilities of tidal power. The Muskeget channel, he said had a strong, almost perpetual current flow. There were only about 40 minutes a day when there was not significant flow.
Both Mr. Smadbeck and Mr. Delahunt are strong advocates of the power generation model of the town of Hull, which has its own electric utility and is well on its way to self-sufficiency in energy.
"To me Hull is the model," Mr Smadbeck said, adding: "What I would like to see is for us to be totally energy independent, to be Hull II. We are the Saudi Arabia of wind; it's natural that we should take advantage of it."
He acknowledged, however, that Hull had some advantages not shared by the Vineyard.
"For one, they have a municipal light company; we have Nstar," he said.
In ominous words for Nstar, the selectmen's letter to Congressman Delahunt said: "We share your enthusiasm for the Hull offshore project [and] the expanded use of community based public utilities..."
While Edgartown took the first step, Mr. Smadbeck said he saw the involvement of the other towns and the Martha's Vineyard Commission as being vital to the goal of energy independence.
"At the end of the day, this will be a Vineyard-wide project, but the way it works is we're the municipality, the legal entity that can begin the process," he said, concluding:
"We have the ability to do it as a town, so let's do it."