Opponents say legislation could override local interests in siting power plants
OSWEGO – A resolution calling for the expressed opposition in Albany of the recently signed Power of NY Act led to heated debate during Thursday night’s full Oswego County Legislature meeting.
In July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Power of NY Act of 2011 – dubbed Article X by opponents of the bill – which is intended to increase power production and lead to new investment in New York.
The Cuomo administration has asserted that the measure has the capacity to create thousands of jobs and result in reliable, cleaner energy while strengthening environmental protections. The program allows homeowners and business owners to take out low-interest loans from New York for energy efficiency improvements, which can then be paid back through utility bills.
Also, the bill enacts a new permanent streamlined permitting process for power plants greater than 25 megawatts by creating a “one-stop” multiagency siting board that will make siting decisions. The legislation allows communities to participate in the process by requiring power plant applicants to provide “intervener funding” for the community to be affected by potential projects, to hire experts and lawyers to review proposal.
Legislator Shawn Doyle, R-Pulaski, has noted that there are aspects of the bill that he described as positive. However, the “bad outweighs the good,” he said, as the issue lays in the threat to Home Rule, he has said, which is the legislative authority that allows each municipality in New York to govern themselves.
“This takes away input from the local planning and zoning, and even community government, whether it is village, town or county, on any siting of power projects,” Doyle said.
The debate began when Legislator Mike Kunzwiler, D-Oswego, requested that the resolution be tabled and sent back to the appropriate legislative committee to gather more information regarding the bill.
“I would like to have some of our state representatives come in and answer some of our questions so we can really give (the legislation) the time it deserves, not a … five-minute meeting that took place before this meeting,” the legislator said, referencing a 6:40 p.m. legislative committee meeting that passed the resolution in opposition to the Power of NY Act, which allowed the measure to be handled during the full Legislature meeting, which began at 7 p.m.
Kunzwiler’s request was denied, as a roll call vote of the legislative body regarding the resolution to table the measure received a vote of 21-4 against, with legislators Kunzwiler, Doug Malone, D-Oswego Town; Jake Mulcahey, D-Oswego; and Amy Tresidder, D-Oswego, the voters in favor.
“Really?” Malone said incredulously after the vote.
The legislator brought up the Legislature’s refutation last year of the New York Power Authority’s Great Lakes Offshore Wind farm project, pitched for development in Lake Ontario waters that border the county. The project would have resulted in the possible placement of between 40 and 150 wind turbines in Lake Ontario. The county passed a resolution opposing that project, which was a decision questioned by the Democratic caucus of the Legislature, which collectively expressed that the body was moving too fast and there was insufficient information gathered to refute the project outright.
“We went through the windmill thing, a year or so ago. … We didn’t have a chance to study, look at (that project),” Malone said. “You squashed it. You couldn’t look at it for economic development, tourism – and don’t tell me there isn’t tourism for windmills because there is.”
He suggested that with the passage of Thursday’s resolution, there is the same lack of information being gathered by the legislative body.
“Don’t tell me that the 21 of you have all the information on this resolution that you want to pass and shove down our throats tonight,” Malone said. “I would like a lot more information on this before I vote on it. Maybe this is a good idea. Maybe it will create jobs – that is what we need in this area.”
The legislator then requested a 10-minute recess to confer with his caucus, which was unanimously agreed to by the legislative body.
After returning to session, Legislator Milferd Potter, R-Orwell, read an amendment to the resolution that specified that the county was against the provisions of the Power of NY Act that threatened Home Rule through the potential building of energy-producing facilities and transmission lines within the area, which initially passed.
However, after a second brief recess by the legislative body, the group reconvened, and a resolution to rescind the amendment was brought to the floor for a vote. The move led to complaints by Tresidder, who referenced the positive aspects of the bill, including loans available to the public and businesses.
“This is what needs to be recognized,” she said. “Not only does (the Power of NY Act) save energy, but it saves the taxpayer money and creates jobs in the construction business. I don’t think we can ignore that. (The resolution’s) language is vague, and we are talking about throwing out the whole bill.”
Kunzwiler continued expressing such concerns, noting that the legislative body should have voted to bring the resolution back to committee. He proceeded to criticize the Republican caucus, accusing them of using bullying tactics.
“If this had been referred back to committee, the dialogue would be good, concise and productive to the taxpayers, but no. … But no, we are going to play a game,” Kunzwiler said. “Keep on playing it, because eventually it is going to be noticed,” the legislator added.
Legislator Barbara Brown, R-Palermo, defended her decision to support Thursday’s resolution.
“I am sorry, but (Doyle) has done his work, and I can not support this when (the legislation) says that a board will have the authority to ignore any local ordinances, standards or requirements that our town has for building in the area,” Brown said. “I don’t think that any township wants the laws that they have labored over and put in place ignored.”
A vote rescinding the amendment was passed, and the resolution expressing opposition to the Power of NY Act passed 19-6, with legislators Kunzwiler, Malone, Tresidder, Mulcahey, James Karasek, R-Fulton, and Mark Fruce, R-Fulton, voting against the measure.
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