Who is Vineyard Power?



Born from a living room conversation, the Island’s preeminent renewable power nonprofit is leading the charge in the energy transition.

Click here to view this story in Brazilian Portuguese.
Clique aqui para ver esta história em português brasileiro.

In the five print issues of Bluedot Living Martha’s Vineyard in 2024, we’ll introduce you to Vineyard Power. In the Spring issue, the Vineyard Power team explains how the organization was founded, and what spurred the need for a local renewable energy nonprofit. They clarify the relationship between Vineyard Power and Vineyard Wind, along with how the two organizations’ goals are aligned, and how they differ. The team also describes some of the work they’re doing now, with their Energy Transition Program, to help move the community toward one hundred percent renewable energy by 2040.

In 2009, when terms like “greening the grid” and “clean energy infrastructure” were gaining usage in the climate change conversation, a concerned group of Islanders formed Vineyard Power, hoping to make the community an active participant in the shift to renewable energy.

At the same time that federal, state, and local policy slowly started to move toward green energy, a small contingent of community members gathered to discuss how Martha’s Vineyard could play a real role. Director and President of Vineyard Power, Richard Andre, asked the critical question: “How are we, as an island, going to take on this challenge of creating a future that is not reliant on the burning of fossil fuels? That’s ultimately what led to our creation. It really all started with a conversation in Paul Pimentel’s living room.”

That first get-together, according to Andre, galvanized the late Harvard engineer Pimentel, David Damroth, Suzi Wasserman, Sue Hruby, Andre, and several others, to establish Vineyard Power.

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According to Andre, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission at the time was distributing its newly completed Island Plan — a comprehensive look forward into some of the most pressing challenges the community will face. Among other proactive measures to address the adverse effects of climate change in our community, the plan recommended establishing an electrical cooperative that would ensure that locals benefit from community-scale solar energy production, along with utility-scale offshore wind projects that were being explored by the federal government south of the Vineyard. “We were watching Cape Wind as it failed [in 2015],” Andre said,  “and we came to the conclusion that there were several reasons it did: One was that it was ahead of its time; another was that it was in the wrong location; but maybe the most important reason was that it didn’t involve the community.”

When the federal government announced that it would soon begin leasing swathes of ocean off Vineyard shores to develop wind farms, it was clear to Andre that the community needed a voice in the process. He also knew that existing electrical infrastructure would have to be rebuilt in order to accommodate the new forms of energy production. “Nobody fifteen years ago was focused on trying to electrify our buildings or transportation, because what good would it do electrifying those things when all your electricity is coming from fossil fuel sources, like coal?” Andre said. “The question was, how do you green the grid?” For Massachusetts, offshore wind is the most abundant renewable energy resource, while solar, though less efficient, can be deployed locally with relative ease. 

In January 2015, Vineyard Power and Vineyard Wind signed the nation’s first federally recognized offshore wind Community Benefit Agreement in the United States. The agreement delivered the local community a ‘seat at the table’ in the responsible development of offshore wind and ensured that a local, community-based organization could shape the ongoing discussion around wind energy. “It was all about envisioning the inevitable trend toward renewables, and wanting to be proactive in that debate — to get in on the ground level, influence outcomes, and secure benefits for the community,” Andre explained. For example, Vineyard Power, through the agreement, negotiated for new clean-energy jobs to be based on the Island. The agreement would also help fund much of Vineyard Power’s important education, advocacy, and development work, like no-cost energy coaching sessions for Vineyarders who are looking for advice on building mechanical systems, solar, electric vehicles, and income-eligible ratepayer assistance programs, as well as providing grant funds to towns and non-profits for solar and battery storage projects at critical Island facilities.

In January 2015, Vineyard Power and Vineyard Wind signed the nation’s first federally recognized offshore wind Community Benefit Agreement in the United States.

In January 2022, Vineyard Power launched the Energy Transition Program for Martha’s Vineyard, with support from the Martha’s Vineyard Vision Fellowship. The Program aims to educate and support residents, small businesses, and the building trades in the transition toward a 100 percent renewable energy economy, including an aspirational goal of a 100 percent reduction in fossil fuel use by 2040. These goals have been adopted by all six Island towns, as well as by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. “This deadline runs parallel to the state’s 2050 goals. There is a big picture to look at. It’s happening here, but it’s also happening at a much broader level,” Andre said. 

Vineyard Power Controller and Renewable Development Manager Luke Lefeber told Bluedot that while identifying and advocating for renewable energy resources is critical, simultaneously developing the necessary infrastructure to handle those resources is equally as important.

 As an example, Lefeber stressed that our electrical infrastructure requires energy storage capabilities to address intermittency and resilience. “We must be able to provide power when generation from wind or solar is low. There needs to be distributed energy storage systems, such as batteries, that will capture excess energy when generation is high, but demand is low, then release that energy when demand is high or when there is a power outage,” Lefeber said.

As more renewable energy resources come online and electrical infrastructure continues to be improved, another one of Vineyard Power’s missions is to help people reduce their energy usage and ultimately save money. Last year, Vineyard Power and the towns on Martha’s Vineyard were selected by the Cape Light Compact to participate in the Mass Save Community First Partnership. Vineyard Power works through this partnership to help residents and small businesses participate in energy efficiency programs, which provide rebates and subsidies to better insulate buildings and transition away from fossil fuels. The first part of the process is working with Islanders to sign up for a no-cost energy assessment

In 2023, Vineyard Power held over ninety outreach events on the Vineyard and has actively engaged with almost 5,000 community members to reduce energy and fossil fuel use. 

How are we, as an Island, going to take on this challenge of creating a future that is not reliant on the burning of fossil fuels?

– Richard Andre, Director and President of Vineyard Power

According to Program Analyst Sophie Pittaluga, Vineyard Power is currently focused on supporting Priority Groups, which include low- and moderate-income individuals and families, English-isolated residents, renters, and residents of environmental justice communities. “There are communities on the Island that are historically barred from engaging meaningfully in this energy transition, whether that’s individuals barred by economic status, access to language, minority status, or those living in environmental justice communities. The transition can only be successful if everyone is involved,” Pittaluga said.

Last year, Vineyard Power was awarded an EmPower grant by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Part of that funding enabled the organization to hire a Portuguese-speaking energy coach — Thamiris Marta — to support the Island’s significant Portuguese-speaking population. Marta has been instrumental in helping Brazilians on-Island participate in the Energy Transition Program.

“When I first heard about this role, I felt like I could really help the Island reach its renewable energy goals,” said Marta, who now serves as Energy Transition Coordinator for Vineyard Power.

Marta is currently training to become an energy coach, and in the meantime is organizing outreach events and connecting with Portuguese-speaking community members. She recently visited Brazilian churches on-Island to share information about no-cost home energy assessments and income-eligible programs, and to get people involved in the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s 2024 Climate Action Fair on May 19th.

Marta said that public guidance around applying for and engaging in renewable energy programs needs to be available in Portuguese in order for the entire community to be a part of the energy transition. “Some of the time, when I speak to Brazilians,” Marta said, “they are surprised to hear these programs exist. ‘This has been available this whole time? I had no idea.’ It’s really important to make people aware of these programs, and then work with them through the process. Even if it’s just helping someone fill out paperwork and explaining how this could really benefit their home, or benefit their pockets.”

Anyone looking for more information on electric transportation, building modifications, solar and wind resources, or the Energy Transition Program can visit vineyardpower.com. Vineyard Power also offers energy coaching to help Islanders make informed decisions about purchasing an EV, installing solar panels, improving energy efficiency in their homes, and accessing income-eligible programs.

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