A new commercial-scale solar project and development of a wind turbine project south of the Island top the to-do list for Vineyard Power in the coming year, leaders of the cooperative told members last weekend.
At the fourth annual membership meeting on Saturday, energy cooperative president Richard Andre said the group has secured funding to develop a 175-kilowatt photovoltaic array; the location has not yet been determined. To date the cooperative has developed two solar arrays at Cronig’s Market in Vineyard Haven and at the town landfill in Aquinnah. And plans are still in the works to develop an offshore wind farm in partnership with a larger company.
Founded in 2009, Vineyard Power is a nonprofit energy cooperative formed to produce energy from local, renewable sources. The ultimate goal is to become a community-owned utility. The cooperative currently has 1,351 members with a goal of 8,000 members. The cost of membership started at $50 and is now $200. Membership fees pay for administrative costs and staff salaries. Membership costs are slated to keep rising until they reach $975. Members have voting rights including deciding what type of electricity the cooperative develops and participating in decision-making for a potential offshore wind farm. If the wind farm can be developed, cooperative members will receive their electricity from Vineyard Power at a discounted rate.
Solar and wind occupied most of the discussion Saturday.
Mr. Andre said the demand for solar increased significantly across the state after legislation was enacted five years ago to encourage the development of photovoltaic arrays.
“Boy, was this a stimulative piece of legislation,” Mr. Andre said. “They took an industry that didn’t’ exist in Massachusetts and within a very short time, it grew.”
In June the state Department of Energy Resources announced that the commonwealth had reached its capacity for solar projects four years ahead of schedule. The state received applications for 400 megawatts in solar projects, with an additional 550 megawatts under review. The solar program creates market-based incentives through tax credits for residential, commercial, municipal and nonprofit groups. At the time Gov. Deval Patrick set a goal of 250 megawatts of solar energy by 2017.
The state is now developing a second program with a goal of 1,600 megawatts of solar energy in the commonwealth by 2020.
“There’s a tremendous amount of projects in the queue that are approaching one gigawatt,” Mr. Andre said.
Meanwhile, Vineyard Power president Paul Pimentel said the power company NStar is nearing its cap for connecting solar projects to the grid statewide.
“NStar is already oversubscribed and went beyond the cap required by legislation for them to net meter; they’re doing it voluntarily,” he said. “It can’t get too big because at some point we’re transferring the cost of running wires over to people who don’t have solar. That fundamentally is going to fail after a while.”
The solar projects have been a lesson on how best to move forward with Vineyard Power’s much larger quest to lease an offshore site for wind turbines, Mr. Andre said. Vineyard Power hopes to build a wind farm in waters south of the Vineyard in a state-designated wind energy area. The Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM), the federal program responsible for leasing the area, will lease 20 blocks per developer. Vineyard Power has partnered with Offshore MW to bid on the blocks closest to the Island. If they are successful, Vineyard Power will take three of the blocks and Offshore MW will develop the remaining 17, Mr. Andre said.
A proposed sale notice, the first step in the bidding process, is expected by the end of the year. An environmental assessment of the area is still being completed. Commercial development is not anticipated for another six to seven years, Mr. Andre said.
The cooperative has started a petition to urge the BOEM to include consideration of community benefits in the bid process. The petition can be found at Vineyard Power’s website, vineyardpower.com.
Last week the federal government awarded Deepwater Horizon the country’s first offshore lease for the waters between Rhode Island and the Vineyard, known as the area of mutual interest (AMI). Construction is expected to be completed in the next five to six years, Mr. Andre said.