Small Turbines: Where to Put Them

Everybody wants one but nobody wants one in their neighbor’s back yard. This is the common theme when it comes to small wind turbines, which are starting to pop up all over the Island landscape.

And for those who can afford it, why not? Doing something that is good for the environment and good for your pocketbook in the long run is smart, sensible, and of course green.

Some town planning boards are caught in a bind — they want to encourage small wind turbines but they are rightly concerned about protecting the visual environment and guarding against what has been called the pin cushion effect. This concern is not trivial, although some would like to paint it that way.

But for some reason, when it comes to regulating small wind, it has been hard to get it right. Where there should be thoughtful, coherent regulation, in the up-Island towns so far there has been only paralysis. All three towns have tried and failed to adopt wind energy bylaws. It began last year in Aquinnah with a lengthy bylaw that was so dense and full of legalese even a lawyer would be hard-pressed to understand it. Voters killed the bylaw on the town meeting floor.

And at annual town meetings this year in West Tisbury and Chilmark, voters shelved two wind turbine bylaws, saying they needed more work.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission can help. The commission is equipped to assist town planning boards in drafting clear, comprehensive wind bylaws that are tailored for the unique needs of each town. The stated goal can and should be to encourage the development of small wind generation, while still protecting the environment, including viewsheds and other aspects of the visual environment. There has been talk for some time about the need for an Islandwide map that pinpoints the best places for small wind turbines, and also the places where wind turbines should be prohibited. The commission has the staff and resources to create such a map, which could form the foundation for guidelines for every town. The Vineyard Energy Project, whose new director has a background in writing and the law, could also provide key assistance.

And then perhaps the three up-Island towns can get on with the business of encouraging — and carefully regulating — small wind.

Because the two things are not incompatible.