St. Lawrence County Legislature calls on state to restore municipalities’ renewable energy permit input
St. Lawrence County legislators are opposing a provision of the state budget that board members say removes local input on renewable energy projects.
The new so-called “Ted New Part JJJ” bill, passed as part of the 2020-21 state budget, would have NYSERDA consulted in developing payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements with renewable energy developers, the county’s resolution says.
The current process has developers working out PILOT deals with the municipality.
“While arguably flawed,” the resolution reads, the current process allows for “community involvement and local municipal input in that Applicants had to create a Public Involvement Plan; hold public statement hearings and trial-type evidentiary hearings; local municipalities had intervener status and could use intervener funds for purposes related to the proposed project.”
The resolution also says “under TED New Part JJJ, language in the proposal would suggest that municipalities will not be given notice of a project until after the Office of Renewable Energy Siting already approves a draft permit.”
The Office of Renewable Energy Siting is a state entity that will decide on issuing renewable energy permits, the resolution says.
Kelly Pearson, deputy clerk to the county legislature, read six letters from county residents saying they are opposed to the Ted New Part JJJ bill. Most of them were from the Parishville area.
“The thing I find the most distressing is removing local municipal input. I am in favor of renewable energy … we have to take a hard look at renewable energy. I cannot support bypassing local municipalities, local input from the folks that are going to be directly affected by it,” said Legislator Larry Denesha, R-Gouverneur. He introduced the resolution.
It passed 11-1-1 with Legislator John Burke, R-Norfolk, voting no. Legislator Nance Arquiette, D-Winthrop, abstained. She cited a conflict of interest due to her employment with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The bill as originally introduced at the Monday, April 6 meeting called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to remove the change from the state budget. County Attorney Steve Button noted that since the budget already passed, the resolution as written “may be a day late.”
Legislator Rick Perkins, D-Potsdam, moved to amend the resolution so that it calls on the state to reconsider it. He suggested “go back to original article 10 process,” which gave municipalities more control over PILOT agreements on renewable energy sites within their borders.
Burke said although he agrees with the resolution’s sentiment, they should move on and look for other solutions to problems it could create.
“I’ll complain about what Albany’s doing. It’s not going to change the fact that it’s already done. The likelihood of getting anything changed is probably slim to none if we take a stance that smacks of being political,” Burke said.
“We have to protect valuable agricultural land,” he said. “I am concerned about global warming and I commend anybody that tries to fight it. Not at the expense of prime agricultural land.”
Legislator Bill Sheridan, R-Hammond, said he thinks the state’s Ted Part JJJ action is too heavy handed.
He said he is “strongly a supporter of home rule legislation.”
“I’m not in favor of any measure dreamed up by the NYS Legislature that further erodes our legislative decision-making process,” Sheridan said.
Legislator Dave Forsythe, R-Lisbon, briefly butted heads with Arquiette over her recusal. She initially indicated she would recuse herself from the vote, but didn’t cite a reason.
“You’re recusing yourself on this and several of the last votes. I need a specific reason for why,” Forsythe said.
“I am an employee of the DEC. Anything that is conservation related … I have certain recusals,” Arquiette answered.
“The people you represent, I don’t know if you’re doing it to the best of your ability in that case,” Forsythe said.
Legislature Chair Joe Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg then cut off the exchange and said “I think that’s a conversation for another time.”
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