Sustainable Island

Four years ago the Vineyard Energy Project wrote a ten-year action plan outlining a series of strategies for the Island — which imports virtually all of its energy — to achieve greater independence.

Today some progress has been made. At this writing there are one hundred and fifty three documented solar systems on the Vineyard, including fourteen solar demonstration sites. Wind is the new darling of the renewable energy world, and a small but steady stream of Vineyard homeowners have begun to apply for wind turbines. The Vineyard has been called the Saudia Arabia of wind so many times that the phrase is at risk for becoming a cliche.

But lofty ideals are one thing; translating them into action is quite another thing.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission has done some excellent spade work with its Island Plan energy work group, but the work needs sharpening and refinement. Fifty years is too long to wait; which goals can be accomplished now, next year and five years from now?

A proposed Islandwide energy district of critical planning concern has been hanging in the wings for two years while the commission has shuffled its feet and allowed itself to become buried in the minutiae of the Island Plan. Meanwhile, the town of Aquinnah has forged ahead with its own ambitious energy agenda, adopting a townwide district of critical planning concern and initiating a possible town turbine project.

But if the Island wants to achieve the goals laid out by the energy project, it will not be on a town-by-town basis — it must be regional and Islandwide.

And there is much to do. A uniform building code is needed that includes standards for energy efficiency in new buildings. A revolving fund that can provide loans to help people of modest means and small business owners upgrade their homes and buildings is a sound idea. The Island should be mapped with an eye toward designating appropriate locations for municipal and neighborhood wind turbines.

The commission has both the power and the staff expertise to make these things happen. Right now the Island is like the Wild West when it comes to renewal energy. A growing group of private entrepreneurs see an opportunity for business profit in the green movement. That is a healthy thing, but private businesses who have a financial stake in the game should not be making policy decisions.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission should. That’s not government intervention, it’s leadership. And just as they want to create a more sustainable Vineyard, Islanders want and need leadership.

It is time to step up the Island energy initiative and all eyes are on the commission to lead the way.