Earlier this fall, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy Richard Sullivan toured Nantucket and met with local leaders to discuss energy uses on Nantucket. N Magazine followed up with the secretary to get his take.
N Magazine: Wind energy has been a hotly debated topic on Nantucket in recent years, as was illustrated last year when a proposition to build a turbine at the town landfill was voted down. What lessons (and pitfalls) can Nantucket learn about wind energy from other coastal communities like Falmouth?
Sec. Sulliva: We now have 103 megawatts of land-based wind across the Commonwealth and we have learned a lot from each project, both good and bad. I have asked my team to take those lessons learned and apply them to new guidelines that will help communities considering wind make even more educated choices for their city or town. As a former mayor, I understand that every community is unique and that the decisions for residents need to happen at a local level – the governor and I have said that about wind since the beginning.
N Magazine: Did you see any alternative energy opportunities during your trip that are not being utilized by the Nantucket community?
Sec. Sullivan: In my short visit to the island, I was impressed with the level of awareness and concern community leaders had about Nantucket’s energy mix and future. Nantucket currently has 18 kilowatts of solar installed on the island. Keeping the unique needs of the community in mind, it may be worth exploring the solar industry. Solar is booming here in Massachusetts, with 327 megawatts of solar capacity installed.
N Magazine: Is tidal energy something to consider on Nantucket?
Sec. Sullivan: Yes. We have provided funding for testing of small tidal turbines in Muskeget Channel and the Cape Cod Canal to deter- mine how best to use this technology. While tidal energy hasn’t been widely deployed, we are supporting innovation in the field and exploring the possibilities. If the technology shows promise, Nantucket would be an excellent place to con- sider using the renewable resource.
N Magazine: Compared to other communities in Massachusetts, how would you rate Nantucket in terms
of being energy conscious? Is there a town elsewhere in the state that you consider exemplary?
Sec. Sullivan: My visit to Nantucket was excellent and I met with a lot of folks who are very concerned about their community’s energy mix and future. Because Massachusetts has seen such a fast-growing commitment from municipalities to the clean energy revolution, I would be hard-pressed to single out any one community as exemplary. Massachusetts has 110 designated Green Communities that have all committed to going above and beyond and have set goals that will allow us, on the state level, to achieve our ambitious agenda.
N Magazine:Nantucket’s Historic District Commission prohibits such alternative energy sources as solar panels on the grounds that they dam- age the historical fabric and aesthetic of the island. Would you say that discouraging the use of alternative energy in order to protect the island’s aesthetic past is actually causing greater detriment for the future?
Sec. Sullivan: Every community is unique – perhaps Nantucket particularly so because of its long-preserved history. I encourage the community leaders I met with to come together to figure out how to expand on Nantucket’s renewable energy in a way that balances their needs and includes a rigorous public process.
N Magazine: Despite its small geographic size and exorbitant gas prices, Nantucket has become the land of big SUVs. Should we all be driving small, fuel-efficient (or electric) cars?
Sec. Sullivan: I think an electric vehicle makes sense in a place like Nantucket with short commutes and the ability to “fuel” them at home or at six publically- vailable charging stations on Nantucket. On average, it costs about three times less to drive an electric vehicle; and they require much less maintenance than internal combustion engine vehicles.
N Magazine: Do you foresee electric cars becoming mainstream in the years to come?
Sec. Sullivan: I do think electric vehicle use is on the rise. There are 1,656 electric vehicles registered today compared to just 946 last year. The Patrick Administration has supported 134 “fueling” stations for vehicles across the Commonwealth. As we see the price of electric vehicles come down over time, I believe they will become more common.
N Magazine:What were some of the major takeaways from your visit? Did anything surprise you?
Sec. Sullivan: Nantucket’s economy is deeply tied to its environment. I was pleased to see how many people in the community are committed to the idea of being good environmental stewards and getting it right. That means both energy and environmental policies have to be taken seriously. Whether it’s aggressive recycling and conservation, smart land use planning, or using the aquarium as an educational tool – the people I met with are in tune with the importance of preserving the natural re- sources the island provides.
N Magazine: What are some hard facts that we as Americans need to learn about the necessity for embracing alternative energy?
Sec. Sullivan: Under Governor Patrick’s leadership, Massachusetts has been at the forefront of the effort to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. In 2008, Governor Patrick signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which set out, among other things, ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions. This means aggressive energy efficiency measures and maximizing our renewable energy generation here in Massachusetts and in our regional grid.
In many ways, we are a model for the nation on this front. Our energy efficiency policies have earned us the number one ranking in the nation for two years running, and we plan to do it again this year. We have exceeded our solar goal of 250 megawatts by 2017 and are on our way to achieving our new goal, 1.6 gigawatts by 2020. We are poised to be home to the nation’s first offshore wind farm and are developing a port in New Bedford that will support the offshore wind industry for many years to come. I think Massachusetts is doing well on this front and can serve as a leader for other states looking to address these serious issues.
N Magazine: What are you optimistic about in looking to the future of alternative energy in Massachusetts?
Sec. Sullivan: The Patrick Administration’s aggressive clean energy initiatives have made Massachusetts a leader in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and emissions reductions. The Commonwealth’s utilities recently announced the largest ever procurement of renewable energy in New England – 565 megawatts of wind power – that will reduce Massachusetts’ reliance on dirty fossil fuels and provide cost- effective clean energy to the Commonwealth’s residents and businesses. This year, Governor Patrick set a new solar goal after reaching the previous goal of 250 megawatts four years early.The Commonwealth now aims to install 1,600 mega- watts of solar capacity by 2020. The clean energy revolution is yielding economic benefits as well, with 11.8 percent job growth in the last year and 24 percent growth in the last two years. Nearly 80,000 people are employed in the clean tech industry in Massachusetts. Even with all of that success, I know Governor Patrick and I will not slow down. We are committed to continuing these policies and making sure that good energy policy is an inte- gral part of the Massachusetts economy that will keep us on a path forward for generations to come