Today is the right time for Aquinnah to opt for energy independence and conservation with a major town-owned windturbine at the Gay Head Cliffs area.

It would not be the first time the town has made a leap of this kind, ahead of others. In 2000, Aquinnah became the first Vineyard town todesignate itself a district of critical planning concern overall, in an effort toperfect the ongoing effort to conserve its environment, its character and its way of life. Inaddition, while other towns continue to permit new houses in the6,000-square-foot range (and sometimes wellbeyond), Aquinnah was the first town on the Vineyard to pass atown bylaw requiring a special permit for building a house over 2,000 square feet. Aquinnah also is the first Vineyard townto be currently designing and negotiating a distributed antennae system for improve d cell phone servicein town. Andfinally Aquinnah, in aninitiative sponsored by selectman Jim Newman, has proposed an Islandwide Energy DCPC that attempts to formalize a set of energy conservation standards across the Vineyard for new construction.

Installing a wind turbine at the Cliffs could be the next first for Aquinnah toassure a conservation-minded — and financially solvent — future for the town. The strategic thinkingbehind a windenergy initiative inAquinnah flows from the ineluctable logicof several compelling factors:

• Located at the leading edge of prevailing southwest winds, with no land massfriction to slow down wind velocity, the area around the Cliffs has been called the Saudi Arabia of wind resources on Martha’s Vineyard.

• The town population base is such that a major wind turbine unitcould potentially earn moneyto meet Aquinnah’s municipal and residential electricity expenses, with electricity left over to sell for profit.

• Electricity produced by an Aquinnah wind turbine would traveldirectly into NStar lines and be sold, under state regulation,at the wholesale rate — to NStar, the Cape Light Compact, or others. Aquinnah could take its wind energy earnings and use them to reimburseboth themunicipality and every town resident for their NStar electric bills. Any remaining balance could be deposited directly into town coffers, to bespent in a manner decided by voters at town meeting.

• Because of Aquinnah’s remote location, the project would not be affected by stringent FAA regulations limiting heights within a certain radius of airports (unlike West Tisbury, where the FAA has placed a height limitation on a wind turbine project currently proposed for the West Tisbury School). The stakes are literally high; greater wind turbine height equals greater profit.

• A large town wind turbine would in one fell swoop render moottown planning board concerns over how to fairlyregulate the onsetof numerous smaller, private wind turbines. Applications are already in the hopper (as they are in otherVineyard towns as well).

• A single, large wind turbine unit would be exceedingly moreefficient than smaller, private wind turbines. Its economies of scale wouldshrink the payback schedule (per kilowatt of energyproduced), and be key toactualizing income-producing, community-generated green electricity — over and above what would be neededto cover actual electric expenses in town.

• A wind turbine at the Cliffswould locate it at the geographical end of the line, Islandwide, thus reducing visibility from Islandroadways to the absolute minimum — from both a local and regional perspective.

• A town and public approach to wind turbine energy is a democratic and community-based approach which takes relative individual income levels out of the equation. Everyone in Aquinnah would benefit; theadvantages would not be limitedto thefew who could afford a private wind turbine.

• Aquinnah can apply immediately to the Mass Technology Collaborative’s Community Wind Collaborative program for a free, professional windenergy consultation. To qualify, a town wind turbine project must also be located on town land — as would this one.

• Visually speaking, a large 300-foot-plus tall turbine on a monopole would have a clean, archetypical,minimalist appearance. Any one who has seen giant turbines out West — or abroad — with their languorous rotations, can testify to the awe and fascination that occurs watching their wind-inspired action.

How much electric power would a major wind turbine at the Cliffs produce? The projected outputof a 350-foot, three-megawatt wind turbine at the Cliffsarea is eight million kilowatt hours per year, according to RETScreen International, a Canadian, Web center for free clean energy analysis,modeling and programming. Itoperates with support from the Canadian Government, NASA and international groups.

How would Aquinnah be able to realize a profit from the turbine? All electricity generated by the wind turbine would be sold at the wholesale market rate for electric power in ourregion. Energypurchasers are obligated under state law toalso pay anadditional amount per kilowatthour for clean energy via renewable energy certificates. There may be additional incentives. An Aquinnah wind turbine output of eight mill ion kilowatt hours would gross $720,000 annually at a wholesale rate of nine cents per kilowatt hour produced. After covering every town resident’s electric bill from these earnings, it is estimated that the town of Aquinnah could net at least$300,000 every year.

Estimated installation costs at the Cliffs in Aquinnah for a three-megawatt wind turbine is $7 million, based on a RETScreen analysis. The estimated payback wouldbe around nineyears, assuming gross annual revenues of $720,000 and assuming all earnings were invested intopayback for thatperiod. Aquinnah’s exceptional wind resources could end up improving initial wind energy production estimates and shrinking the payback estimates.

There is a catch. Towns need to be bonded in order to borrow money. Under state law,town-owned wind energy projects require bonding for financing and that bonding requires an act of the state legislature. That in turn can cause delays of up to three years.

A town could associate with an outside entity that is already authorized to obtain bonding and to raise money. But that could sacrifice the business plan to bring all the revenue into Aquinnah.

Has anyone else in Massachusetts attempted something like this? The town of Hull has had its own light company for years. Since 2000, they have installed two wind turbines and aresuccessfully supplying the power needs of 600-plus homes (out of a larger number). Samples oftheir success story are ata Web site:

One three-megawatt turbine in Aquinnah would generate more than twice as much electricity as the two Hull units combined. Our electric load is so small — and our wind resource so high — that we have theprospect of reaping significant profit for the town.

Stay tuned.


Carlos Montoya lives in Aquinnah.