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Legislation puts wind decisions in Albany  

Credit:  By NANCY MADSEN, The Journal, www.ogd.com 22 June 2011 ~~

If proposed state legislation is approved today, the siting of wind power projects in the north country will be decided by a committee in Albany, not local planning boards.

State and local wind power proponents have supported Article X in the past, saying that it limits to one year how long the siting approval and permitting process can take. Under local review, projects have lagged for three, four or more years.

Wind power opponents tend to oppose Article X out of suspicion of Albany’s renewable energy policies and its push to build wind-power projects.

The Article X provisions will be part of a larger energy policy bill after a three-way agreement among the governor and legislature leaders, making passage likely.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she said she will likely oppose the legislation when it comes to a vote.

“It takes away local control of siting of generation facilities,” she said. “By lowering the threshold to 25 megawatts, it will catch a lot more projects. Though it states that local laws regarding these types of projects will be followed, the state will still be able to decide if the local laws are reasonable. And if they decide the laws aren’t, they can disregard the local laws.”

The law, which governed siting of new power projects, was part of the process from July 1992 to the end of 2002 after the state Legislature was unable to agree on revisions that would have extended its life.

The law enabled a streamlined, one-step permitting process for building power plants with at least 80 megawatts of capacity. In the six years since its expiration, wind farms have popped up around upstate, but no other fossil fuel or nuclear power plants have been built.

New projects that are at or exceed 25 megawatts would be subject to Article X. Proposed projects in Jefferson County range from St. Lawrence Wind Farm’s 76.5 megawatts to Galloo Island Wind Farm’s 246 megawatts. But a few of the local projects may want to join the Article X process, if developers feel their proposals are wasting on the vine.

In the absence of a law, project developers have to obtain “all appropriate local and state permits and approvals, and undergo environmental review subject to the state Environmental Quality Review Act,” according to the state Public Service Commission website.

Wind power proponents locally and at the state level have argued in support of Article X. Towns including Cape Vincent, Clayton and Hammond have struggled through an environmental process for years with no conclusion.

The agreement may have stemmed from a meeting late June 14 among the governor and legislative leaders.

“We are aware that the meeting took place and that discussions were held on an Article X bill,” State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie’s spokesman James E. Reagen said last week. “The senator is waiting to see what the final bill will actually look like and what the details are of the provisions before she decides how to vote.”

Mrs. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, supported Article X legislation when she ran for office in the fall. A call after business hours to Mr. Reagen was not returned.

Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, couldn’t comment on the provisions because the Assembly’s minority hasn’t been briefed on the details of the agreement, spokeswoman Julia C. Robbins said.

Mrs. Russell said the agreement indicates that the bill copies provisions from a bill Assembly Energy Chairman Kevin A. Cahill, D-Kingston, introduced.

Under Mr. Cahill’s bill, those with an interest in the project would have access to a pot of money from the developer, called the intervenor fund. Each project would be considered by a siting board that would include locally appointed community representatives.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation would research cumulative effects of emissions and conduct an environmental justice analysis with the state Department of Health. Other state agencies would complete a cost analysis and coastal zone management law analysis. And projects that have already started permit approval would be exempt.

“I’m concerned that local communities will lose their say, despite the fact that they can hire an attorney to state their case,” Mrs. Russell said. “I am not sure it strikes the proper balance, given how important I feel local autonomy is.”

Her mind doesn’t change when asked about the rancor shown in local communities over the wind power debate.

“There are many people in our community that are not necessarily against generating facilities,” she said. “There should be balanced local laws and I’m not sure that what a moderate person would consider moderate – if that would be considered reasonable by the state.”

And accusations of ethical issues are not enough to dissuade her.

“When it comes to ethics, I think everybody at every level of government should be held to the same basic ethical standards,” she said. “I don’t think we should legislate because we feel that local officials cannot be ethical … local voters should be prepared to address that at the local ballot box.”

Source:  By NANCY MADSEN, The Journal, www.ogd.com 22 June 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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