As the nearly 800 members of Vineyard Power — the Island’s nascent energy cooperative — vote on their future, at least 12.5 per cent of them need to actually show up in person to legally do so as a quorum. Members who attended Wednesday night’s meeting to vote on rather mundane bylaw changes were disappointed to find that there were not enough in attendance to do so.
One audience member blamed the poor attendance on the lack of urgency in the cooperative’s electronic bulletin.
Instead, the meeting became a general discussion about proposed bylaw changes, which involved, among other things, membership eligibility and management restrictions. As the not-quite-quorum pored over particulars, objecting to any phrasing that seemingly narrowed members’ control, while at the same time pushing for ostensibly inconsequential amendments (such as requiring there always be an odd number of directors), Cronig’s owner Steve Bernier identified a potentially troubling feature in the cooperative’s structure: too many cooks could spoil the management of an incredibly complex business enterprise.
“I apologize if I say something out of place but I’m only saying this because I’m passionate about the success of this project, but the word cooperative worries me,” he began.
“If we have a management team, and we have a board of directors, and we have litigious America, and we have the politics we have, there’s enough going on there that when you try to open things up to keep them warm and fuzzy, the idea of a cooperative becomes very burdensome and actually interferes with management running this very difficult business with a ton of technological challenges. I’m sitting here listening to your dialogue and becoming more and more concerned that with our intent to try to create inclusion you’re going to create an unwieldy management structure.”
In turn advisory committee chairman John Abrams defended Vineyard Power against what amounted to an attack on the very essence of the cooperative model.
“There are literally millions of cooperatives all across Europe and all across this country too, many of which have been operating for 100 years,” he said. “The question is can we find that balance between members and management? I doubt that we’re going to find it right here. It’s going to take some iterations, but I think this is an initial attempt to find it.”
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel echoed the comments, applauding the collaborative, democratic process.
“I got excited initially because I live on Martha’s Vineyard and this was pitched to me as a cooperative where we would take our destiny into our hands and try to do something positive about our energy situation, and each citizen of the Island could participate. I like that approach,” he said.
Finally on the agenda, outreach coordinator Laura MacNeil outlined the organization’s marketing strategy for the summer, pointing to radio and print advertising as well as appearances at local events.
Paul Pimentel, chairman of the Vineyard Power board, indicated that to take advantage of the influx of summer visitors, and potential cooperative members, the cost of membership might not increase to $150 from $100 on July 1 as it was originally scheduled to do. (The cost of the cooperative membership increases by $50 every six months to encourage early joiners).
The audience had suggestions for expanding membership as well, such as reaching out to the Island’s faith community, homeowners associations and even sunbathers.
Chas DeGeofroy of Chilmark offered members a simple hook: “Just walk the beaches and ask people, what would you rather see: windmills or oil derricks?”