I’ve enjoyed watching the process of state’s Article 10 Law permitting wind energy facilities through the lens of the Cassadaga Wind Project. Like other citizens, my attempt to understand Cassadaga’s Article 10 permit is enabled by participating as “party” in the state Department of Public Service web site where documentation is shared and also by attending public hearings conducted by the state Public Service Commission. What I have seen indicates that Article 10 is a failure in its claims to provide a representative and transparent process for permitting renewable energy projects.
The Cassadaga project now under construction is ever changing upon circumstances and is not the same project described by the state Siting Board’s vote of approval in January of 2018.
Amendments to the project have been considered and approved without the votes of the two Chautauqua County representatives who participated in the full seven-member Siting Board’s oversight of the project’s certificate conditions and permission. Only the five Albany appointed Siting Board members approved the first project amendment allowing tree clearing last month instead of the originally agreed November start.
Now again it is only the Albany members of the board considering the second project amendment, the proposed relocation of the original site for the project’s connection to the power grid. The forest-clearing amendment is an abandonment of concern during construction for nesting species during their maternal season. The proposed new location of the grid connection and its electric substation will impact a larger area of wetlands and devalue newly involved properties as revealed on the Department of Public Service web site. The PSC is conducting a public hearing on the proposed amendment at the Sinclairville Fire Hall at 2 p.m. today.
There is another means for permitting the Cassadaga project without full accountability. This process is revealed on the Department of Public Service web site as a provision of Public Service Law known as phased compliance.
The developer is required to publish compliance filings stating that conditions for construction are being met, but the publication of compliances in phases allows the project to go forward without the developer signaling intent to follow the agreed upon rules until the last minute. The Cassadaga project is therefore not comprehensively defined prior to the start of construction. My concern relates to the developer’s ability to begin installing turbines, and then claim that compliance with noise monitoring conditions is too burdensome. This would lead to another request to amend the conditions for construction which again would be considered by the PSC without input from local representatives. Once the turbines are up I don’t see a path for the PSC to do anything but concede to the developer’s intention to make more noise than originally permitted.
Also concerning to the Cassadaga start without fully confirmed conditions is the lack of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit as required. The Corps is currently evaluating the impact to wetlands of the proposed change in the site of connection. The Corps is seeking public comment on the Cassadaga Wind Project and its effect on the wellbeing of the community. Comments can be submitted until Nov. 1 to the Corps’ representative Molly Connerton: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article 10 intends to be inclusive of local representation on the Siting Board. The abuse of this intent which is evident in the Cassadaga project is concerning for the future of home rule and the towns’ ability to establish their own protective zoning laws. If we do not criticize this abuse now then who are we later to protest the possible loss of home rule in the matter of siting renewable energy projects?
Since Article 10’s adoption in 2011 the state has failed to permit the construction of a single industrial wind facility through the provisions of this law. Little wonder the Cuomo administration is desperate to claim a political victory by directing its appointed commissioners to allow the developer every twist and loophole in the law.
After all, the Cassadaga turbines must be up and spinning within the next 13 months , December 2020, for the developer to claim our federal tax dollars which make the project feasible.
Mark Twichell is a Fredonia resident.
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