The Edgartown, Tisbury and Oak Bluffs water departments will get expert advice on making their systems resilient in emergency situations, thanks to a technical assistance grant from the US Department of Energy.

Procured by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, this is the second Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project grant awarded on Island. The first, granted to Aquinnah and Chilmark last year, looked developing “microgrids,” to improve energy resilience in the isolated towns.

This most recent grant, said commission energy planner Kate Warner, is a critical step in preparing the Island for extreme weather events.

“It is key that, during a prolonged power failure, we have potable water,” Ms. Warner said, explaining that municipal wells on-Island operate using electric pumps powered by the grid. During a power outage, those wells have backup generators which run on propane or diesel.

But in the case of a regional outage, Ms. Warner said, those redundancies might not be enough.

“If a hurricane took out all of New England’s power, there would not be enough fuel supply,” she said.

The risk of running out of fuel, and subsequently losing access to water, is higher now that climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme weather events. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will investigate a number of resiliency strategies over the next year, Ms. Warner said.

One potential solution is what Ms. Warner calls her “magic bus idea,” using electric Vineyard Transportation Authority buses to provide battery power to the water department well sites.

Conclusions reached from this research process may be widely applicable to other municipal water supplies, Ms. Warner said, as well as informing similar planning for wastewater systems which also depend on gas-powered backup engines.

The plans may also help Island towns gain access to additional funding for implementation.  

“This is the first step,” Ms. Warner said. “It’s very exciting.”