Heeding calls for an expansion of the Island’s aging energy infrastructure, utility giant Eversource is positioned this fall to begin work on a major project that will run two new 23-kilovolt power cables to Martha’s Vineyard.

The project, which will replace one of the four undersea cables that connect the Island to the mainland as well as add a fifth, aims to extend the relevancy of the Island’s power grid as population continues to grow and planners look toward a greener future.

“You’ll have two new cables and you’ll net one additional cable,” Eversourse spokesperson Christopher McKinnon told the Gazette in a recent phone call.

Electricity on Martha’s Vineyard is currently provided through four submarine power cables; three that run from a switching station in Falmouth to West Chop, and one that runs to East Chop. The project will replace a 36-year-old cable running to West Chop, which failed last summer, and run a new cable under the Vineyard Sound to East Chop near the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. The cables will be 6.1 miles long, according to Eversource’s description of the project.

Initial work on the project is slated to begin in Falmouth this fall, and the two cables are expected to be in service by the end of 2024. Mr. McKinnon told the Gazette that a final cost is unclear, but said the company can recover costs from ratepayers if the state Department of Public Utilities deems the system upgrades prudent. He estimated work would begin in the spring on the Vineyard, although a few final permitting hurdles remain.

The project will also eliminate five 12.5-megawatt diesel generators in Vineyard Haven used to supplement the Island’s energy needs during the peak months of summer, bolstering and expanding an aging Island energy infrastructure that has been stretched to its limits.

“This isn’t what you would call a short-term fix,” Mr. McKinnon said. “This is a long-term reliability project.”

The new cables act as a replacement for a large-scale battery storage project that was scrapped by Eversource after significant advocacy work from Island energy and climate experts, who felt the proposed facility fell short of the Island’s growing electrificiation needs. A cable failure last summer also added to concerns from Island energy planners. 

“They realized that that battery system was not going to get them as far as they expected,” said Martha’s Vineyard Commission member Ben Robinson.

Mr. Robinson chairs the commission’s climate action task force, which worked with Eversource to alter plans from the battery storage facility to a more comprehensive upgrade to the Island’s energy infrastructure.

“We’re going to need more electricity as we transition off of fossil fuels,” Mr. Robinson said. “We realized Eversource was underestimating where we were going to be.”

Whereas the battery system would have helped wean the Island off the existing generators which burn hundreds of gallons of fuel each year, the new cables will provide enough power to eliminate use of the generators entirely.

“We should be able to get into the 2030 decade with the finished cables,” Mr. Robinson said.

By replacing an aging cable and adding a new one, Mr. Robinson said both of the new cables should expand the amount of energy available to the Island.

“They’re not sending full energy through that [existing] cable,” Mr. Robinson said. “So we’re essentially going to get two new cables.”

While the Island waits for the new cables to be implemented, the five existing generators in Vineyard Haven will continue to provide supplementary power to Martha’s Vineyard.

“We’ve got at least two or three years that we’re going to have to manage,” Mr. Robinson said.

But Island energy experts remain optimistic as plans to modernize the power grid begin to materialize. Mr. Robinson said the Island’s relationship with Eversource has grown stronger in recent years, and MVC energy planner Kate Warner has taken early steps to build an Eversource working committee including energy experts and representatives from all six Island towns.

“This group is made to help Eversource come up with a strategic plan for the Vineyard,” Ms. Warner told the Gazette.

Still, experts said the Island’s energy grid has a long road ahead. Mr. Robinson said demand for energy on the Island will likely continue to grow, and conversations around emergency infrastructure for storms and other events are only just starting to take shape.

“There’s a lot of planning ahead for our grid on the Island,” Mr. Robinson said.

He said he hopes that Eversource will take an interest in the Island as a trial space for infrastructure like solar power and a backup grid.

“We’re happy that Eversource sees the Vineyard as a testing ground,” Mr. Robinson said. “We’ve been trying to build that relationship.”