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Area lawmakers split over state's 'Power NY Act'  

Credit:  By Matt Surtel, The Daily News, thedailynewsonline.com 28 June 2011 ~~

BATAVIA – A measure increasing the state’s authority to site power plants received a split vote from area lawmakers.

The “Power NY Act” was approved overwhelmingly Thursday. Tallies included 117-13 in the State Assembly, and 59-3 in the State Senate.

Assemblyman Daniel Burling, R-Warsaw, and State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Clarence, were among those voting no.

In the meantime, State Senators George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and Patrick Gallivan, R-Depew, supported the measure. Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, didn’t vote due to a family obligation.

The legislation still needs Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approval.

Siting measures

The Power NY Act includes a section re-authorizing Article X of the state’s Public Service Law.

The original Article X had expired Jan. 1, 2003. Local governments then assumed the jurisdiction for siting issues.

Under the new law, Albany will have the authority to site electricity-generating projects of 25 megawatts or more.

The bill is designed to streamline the approval process. Construction and operating certifications could be issued more quickly.

Large-scale commercial wind farms – highly controversial in Wyoming County and elsewhere – would fall under the new rules.

They include:

n Applications would be sent to a seven-member siting board composed of five state officials and two community members. The latter would be chosen by the state legislature, based on recommendations from local officials.

n Project applications would require information regarding environmental setting; potential health, safety and environmental impacts; and a comprehensive demographic, economic and physical description of the host community.

Additional requirements include a list of alternative locations, and steps to minimize any potentially-significant environmental impacts.

n Community members – along with groups representing environmental, public interest, commercial and industrial concerns – would be allowed to participate in the process.

The board would have the authority to override local laws and ordinances deemed unreasonably burdensome. Decisions must be made within a year of completed applications, unless a major change occurs in the project proposal.

n Existing project applications will be “grandfathered” using the old rules. But applicants could also choose to submit their proposal under the new law.

Power issue

The loss of local siting authority didn’t sit well with those opposing the project.

“It takes away local control,” Burling said Monday. “I’m not anti-windmill. I’m indifferent on it, but I believe the local people should have the final say, and not the state of New York.”

Burling said a lot of good things were also included in the Power NY Act, but he couldn’t support it due to the windmill issue.

“I think it’s best the local people decide whether they should have them or not,” he said.

Both Maziarz and Gallivan support the measure.

“The energy needs of New York State are increasing substantially, and the effective blackout on building major new generation facilities has gone on for far too long,” Maziarz said.

Maziarz, who chairs the State Senate’s Energy and Telecommunications committee, noted no new generation facilities have been built statewide since 2002, except for comparatively-smaller, locally-regulated projects such as wind farms.

“We are focused on conservation and efficiency, but we also need to focus on power production,” he said. “We need to keep up with demand and strengthen our state’s energy portfolio.”

Maziarz said the new legislation represents a three-way agreement among Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the State Senate and Assembly to plan the state’s energy future. The measure has been endorsed by a diverse – possibly unprecedented – gathering of business, environmental and labor groups.

Article X has been one of Maziarz’s long-term priorities, creating a “one stop” permitting process which he said helps eliminate the uncertainty over project timelines.

Project applicants would be required to pay between $30,000 and $750,000 to an intervenor fund, he noted. That money would go directly to local municipalities, to independently hire legal, environmental and engineering firms.

Some municipalities have otherwise been faced with substantial legal bills for projects which might not be built, Maziarz said. He also noted local representatives would be on the siting board.

He had initially supported a minimum project size of 50 megawatts in the legislation, while Cuomo and the Democratic legislators wanted 10 megawatts. Twenty-five megawatts was the compromise.

“I think these are the protections for local government,” Maziarz said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for (Assemblyman Daniel Burling, who voted against the bill) and am sure he’d want to see it tighter, but when you see all the elements combined, it’s a positive step.”

The idea is to spur economic development, which would help keep young people in Western New York, he said.

Alternate views

Gallivan also noted protections for the communities.

“I know there’s some concern about the local control,” he said. “I think this bill, however, involves more positives for local individuals and communities than negatives.”

Residents living near wind farms – but outside the host municipality – currently have no say in such projects, he said, while Article X would allow them to participate as involved parties.

“This allows anybody in the community who a project may affect can have a voice, which I think is a good thing,” Gallivan said.

Local government still has jurisdiction for projects less than 25 megawatts, he said, while noise, aesthetics, alternative siting and other studies are requirements under the bill.

“I think at the end it provides for more local input than it does to restrict somebody (from being involved),” he said. “Another positive thing I think is this entire process takes 12 months, as opposed the divisiveness that can takes place for years, and years and years.”

Another concern

But Ranzenhofer still has issues not necessarily involving Article X.

The Power NY Act also includes a measure called on-bill recovery. The concept would allow the state’s NYSERDA agency to pool funding from private lenders.

The program would then pay up-front for energy efficiency improvements to people’s homes. They’d get loans of up to $13,000 for residences or $26,000 for businesses.

It’s meant to help create “green” jobs while ultimately saving homeowners money. They’d pay off the investment by means of a temporary, monthly charge on their utility bill.

If the person stops paying, the investors and the state would be partially covered through a reserve fund.

Ranzenhofer said he believes the on-bill recovery program will result in costs passed on to all the other rate payers, increasing their utility costs.

“I also think it creates a situation where on-bill financing people will put in systems they can’t afford, which will result in foreclosures – such as new heating systems and windows they cant’ afford, resulting in shut-off notices when they can’t pay utility bills,” he said.

Local control was his other worry. Ranzenhofer said some Wyoming County communities were receptive to wind farms.

“In Genesee County that’s not the case, and my fear is you’ll have people from outside the area being able to impose their will on the locality without being able to stop it.”

Although two local residents would be on the state’s review board for a project, Ranzenhofer said it’s still a small minority overall. He said they’d lack a controlling interest.

“If you’re dealing with my county, you need to have more control of the outcome and you won’t have that,” he said. “Two out the seven just doesn’t cut it.”

Source:  By Matt Surtel, The Daily News, thedailynewsonline.com 28 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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