An island resident has authored a citizen petition seeking to have the town withdraw from the so-called "Good Neighbor Agreement" with Vineyard Wind, the offshore energy developer currently construction a 62-turbine wind farm southwest of Nantucket.
Val Oliver, the founding director of the group ACK For Whales (formerly Nantucket Residents Against Turbines) that is suing to stop Vineyard Wind in federal court, sponsored the citizen petition, which if certified, will head to Nantucket's Annual Town Meeting in the spring of 2024.
Back in August 2020, Nantucket’s Select Board, along with the Nantucket Preservation Trust and the Maria Mitchell Association, signed the “Good Neighbor Agreement” with Vineyard Wind. The agreement bound the town and those organizations to commit their support to the offshore wind energy project in exchange for $16 million to mitigate the potential historical, cultural, and economic impacts of the turbines on Nantucket. While there was a small number of concerns raised at the time, criticism of the agreement has grown since Vineyard Wind began construction of the wind farm approximately 15 miles southwest of Nantucket earlier this year.
"We believe the Good Neighbor Agreement should never have been signed," Oliver said. "The damage offshore wind power plants will inflict upon the ocean, the North Atlantic Right Whale and other marine life will be irreversible and we would hope once the people on Nantucket are provided all the relevant information, they feel the same. The Good Neighbor Agreement was signed by a handful of people on behalf of all of us, but sadly none of us were involved in the decision-making process, or were even made aware of the agreement until it was too late."
The “Good Neighbor Agreement” was negotiated by the town’s special counsel, Cultural Heritage Partners, as Nantucket's National Historic Landmark status and the potential impact of a nearby offshore wind farm brought Vineyard Wind to the table. In addition to the mitigation payment of $16 million, the agreement also requires Vineyard Wind to paint the turbines a “non-reflective off-white/light gray color to blend into the horizon” and to install an aircraft detection lighting system (ADLS) which will only turn on if there is an aircraft in proximity to the turbines, rather than having constant blinking lights on the horizon.
Under the terms of the agreement, the town, the Nantucket Preservation Trust, and the Maria Mitchell Association are required to “convey support for the projects” and “ensure that Nantucket residents and visitors are informed of the benefits of the projects.”
The town has recently received the first $4 million mitigation payment from Vineyard Wind stipulated by the Good Neighbor Agreement, and is working with the Community Foundation For Nantucket to distribute a portion of it through a grant process.
Oliver has also sponsored a second citizen petition that would require the Select Board and town administration to obtain prior authorization from voters at Town Meeting before entering into any future agreements with offshore wind developers. Beyond Vineyard Wind, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is leasing thousands of acres of federal waters southwest of Nantucket to several different offshore wind energy developers.
"Nantucket will be forever changed by the 1,200 square-mile series of power plants slated to be constructed and endlessly maintained right off our shore," Oliver said. "Our dark sky will never be the same. The environment for marine animals and birds will be severely impacted, and so will Nantucket's. We feel strongly that the community needs to learn more and be able to vet the impacts from these projects. The Good Neighbor Agreement has stifled the opportunity for open and robust discussion. Nantucket is better than that."
The town's agreement with Vineyard Wind has several sections that speak to an early termination of the deal, and what would happen if either side reneges on its obligations.
According to the agreement, "If the Nantucket Parties decline to fulfill their obligations under this Section 5 related to one or more Projects, Vineyard Wind shall have no further obligations under Section 4.1 to contribute funding to the Fund with respect to those Projects."
Marion Werkheiser, a managing partner with Cultural Heritage Partners, declined to discuss Oliver's citizen petitions and the town's potential response.
"We are not able to share our privileged legal advice to the Town with the media," Werkheiser said.