The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s new energy policy is going back to the drawing board after commissioners raised questions about whether its requirements are too stringent.
The 10-page policy focuses broadly on eliminating the use of fossil fuels in Island building, maximizing energy efficiency and improving Island energy resilience. While some commissioners commended the policy, others took issue with its breadth and certain aspects of its language, stalling a final vote Thursday night.
Formulated over the past year by a commission subcommittee, commissioner Ben Robinson said Thursday that the policy is meant to focus on wide-ranging environmental goalposts rather than specific requirements for developments that come before the commission for review.
“We set some overarching goals, and then there’s a lot of nuance within those goals,” Mr. Robinson said. “And so we’re going to have to be flexible in how we apply policy, but we have to be also firm that this is the direction we have to head in.”
The policy goals, stated in order of importance in the document, call for applicants to design and install all-electric systems, adopt state stretch codes and energy star standards, incorporate on-site solar and/or equivalent on-Island renewable generation, and facilitate the adoption of electric vehicles.
According to Mr. Robinson, electric systems are generally far more efficient than alternatives. In a presentation of the commission’s climate task force annual report before the energy policy discussion, Mr. Robinson said the Island would use a third less of its current energy consumption if it went all-electric by 2040.
“That really just speaks to the efficiency of electric as an energy source,” he said.
But at the meeting Thursday, commissioners took issue with certain aspects of the policy and its language, including a clause that suggests applicants achieve 100 per cent of their on-site energy production needs. If compliance is impossible, the policy says applicants should provide for 100 per cent equivalent renewable generation capacity elsewhere on the Island.
“I have some concerns here, with the net zero idea,” commissioner Fred Hancock said. “Ninety per cent of the DRIs that we get are for projects in a town commercial or business district. And the idea that they could possibly meet 100 per cent of their energy needs by local generation is really not possible.”
Commissioners Linda Sibley, Ted Rosbeck and Brian Packish echoed the concerns, with Mr. Packish saying he thought it was unrealistic for applicants to achieve off-site energy mitigation through solar power.
“These projects, at some point, we start the death of 1,000 cuts,” Mr. Packish said.
Mr. Robinson pushed back against the issues with the offsite mitigation requirement, arguing that it was necessary to build out the Island’s green infrastructure and actually cost-effective for applicants to offset their energy needs.
“The reality is we’re looking to build energy resiliency on the Island,” he said. “And yes, this is a different sort of ask of applicants, but in a lot of ways this is an ask that has to be made at this point. We need to move off of fossil fuels.”
Other commissioners lauded the policy, saying it presented a forward-thinking vision for the Island’s future and a path toward achieving its energy goals, which include eliminating fossil fuels by 2040.
“I think this is an exceptional document,” commissioner Jeffrey Agnoli said.
The governor’s representative on the commission, Michael Kim, also called the document “wonderful,” but said he thought the Island’s goal should be focused on carbon neutrality, not necessarily the complete elimination of fossil fuels.
“We want every project to hopefully get to net zero in carbon emissions, not fossil fuels,” Mr. Kim said. “That’s why we need to accept alternative means of reducing carbon emissions.”
Ms. Sibley agreed that the document should provide more options for applicants to achieve the policy’s goals, like offsetting energy use and implementing onsite generation.
“If nothing else, we need to make this sound easier to do,” Ms. Sibley said.
The subcommittee decided to reconvene to further discuss the document and its language, putting off a vote.
“The energy policy committee should meet again,” commission chairman and subcommittee member Joan Malkin said. “There’s more than one comment here.”
In other business during a packed meeting Thursday, the Edgartown planning board brought forward changes to the Cape Pogue district of critical planning concern that would alter the makeup of its advisory committee and add a clause allowing town officials to enforce bylaws. A public hearing on the change was set for March 11.
The commission also extended a previously approved request to demolish the old West Tisbury fire station off Old Courthouse Road. The building has been slated for affordable housing by the town.