How much money wind projects blow into local communities is still up in the air – and it could be changing as the state Senate and Assembly work on Article X, a bill to regulate energy production in New York.
State Sen. George Winner, R-Elmira, is part of the conference committee comprised of Senate and Assembly members to come up with a joint bill. He said the two bodies are “very far apart” in terms of coming to terms on a joint offering.
The bulk of the bills deal with natural gas and clean air standards, but wind energy could be impacted as well.
“To the extent that a wind project would exceed – in the Senate bill – a 50-megawatt level,” Winner said, adding the Assembly bill calls for regulations to kick in at the 30-megawatt level. “It would obviously be subject to Article X.”
He said there are lots of issues to consider, and they are still under discussion.
“We’re in the process of trying to deal with issues such as how it would impact projects that are already in development, how they would be grandfathered in, if any would be,” Winner said. “We’re looking at the impact to local land use planning processes, and how it would affect those.
“We certainly don’t want to diminish the municipalities’ involvement,” he added. “The whole theory of Article X is to provide a one-stop shopping for the siting of power plants, not to have them subject to lots of varying local rules.”
Winner said municipal officials, as well as wind proponents and opponents have been consulted while developing the proposal. He said the proposal would have municipal officials as mandatory members of siting boards for proposed wind farm projects. He also said he’s had conversations with a UPC Wind Management lobbyist in Albany.
“I think their concern is whether they would be grandfathered in if they are a certain ways down the road in developing their projects,” Winner said, adding he feels if a company has already gone through the SEQR process it should be grandfathered. “If they’ve already gone through that process, I think it’s fair that should be the major hurdle for them, rather than having them do it all over again.
“In the proposed Article X, some of what they may have done through SEQR may be, in some instances, more comprehensive than what they would have to do under the proposed siting board,” he added, “but we haven’t agreed to any of this yet, it has not been finalized.”
The fact that UPC Wind Management contributed $1,000 to Winner’s 2006 campaign has impacted him “not one bit” in his decision making, Winner said. He raised $202,285 in 2006, the top contributor – Friends for Kuhl – giving $6,036.
“If that’s where this is going, it’s unfortunate,” Winner said after being asked about the contribution. “Some of the proposals we’re trying to make sure the municipalities are involved, as well as wind opponents.
“They’re the ones that have raised the issues of land use planning, municipal impact fees, requiring assured PILOT agreements and other tax revenues to municipalities,” he added.
The only other wind company proposing a project found to have donated to an election campaign in 2006 was Airtricity – proposing a project for Hartsville and Hornellsville – $1,000 to Eliot Spitzer’s campaign for governor.
Winner said the conference committee is trying to figure that out and how municipalities’ rights to impact fees could be preserved. He said the new legislation would have no negative impact on Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreements being worked on in local municipalities for wind farms.
“It has not been finalized as to what municipalities would be entitled to in the form of impact fees. Notwithstanding, those can be part of what the company can be offering,” Winner said, “there just hasn’t been any discussion about precluding them. Nor has there been discussion about requiring them.”
Winner touted a provision in the legislation that would allow local residents to have a voice through “intervenor funds,” that would be available to groups opposing development, such as Cohocton Wind Watch. Municipalities would be eligible to receive up to 50 percent of the intervenor funds – if they apply for it – under the proposal.
Developers would be required to pay $100,000 to the intervenor fund on its pre-application stage, with ability for another $25,000 to be requested at the pre-application or application stage, Winner said. He said projects that exceed the 80-megawatt level would be required to cough up another $500,000.
“It’s not taking public participation away, the whole issue is that participation is being strengthened,” Winner said. “Right now, in municipalities that don’t have land use, planning or zoning, they don’t have a lot of involvement now. The whole siting process would be much stronger.
“Anyone with concerns would have a major opportunity to make sure they are addressed, whether it be a wind farm, a coal plant or a gas plant,” he added. “If anything, this is strengthening major public participation.”
Winner said there would a host of hearings and notifications, and the ability to use the intervenor funds paid by developers to hire lawyers, experts and others to challenge any aspect of the development.
“Whether it’s wind or anything else,” he said.
By Rob Montana
22 June 2007
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