Developers in favor, residents against proposed uniform rules put forward by new renewable project siting office
LOWVILLE – Proposed “uniform standards and conditions” that will govern all future solar and wind projects in the state if approved were the topic of a virtual public hearing Thursday night.
The new rules, created by the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting, eliminate the negotiated conditions determined between local authorities and various government agencies through the Article 10 process which was often inconsistent from project to project and took years to complete.
Renewable energy project developers spoke in favor of the proposed regulations and residents involved in activities against particular renewable projects in their local areas expressed concerns with the uniform rules and standards, especially the potential of those standards to diminish the opportunity for local rule relating to renewable projects.
“We find that the regulations will establish a clear and concise process to allow for the public to be fully engaged and for the developers to have reasonable expectations of timeliness,” said Darren Suarez of Boralex, a renewable energy developer working on the largest solar project in Jefferson County to be built on 1,000 acres in the towns of Watertown and Hounsfield.
A veteran at Fort Drum, Pedro Comacho, also spoke in favor of the proposed regulations that will speed up the siting process because, he said, “climate change is a threat to national security” that has already cost the taxpayers significant money, citing various government documents as proof. He said he supports the north country for renewable projects through the new process because the projects will create jobs, bring in “payments in lieu of taxes” and “rely on our locally produced clean energy.”
He also implored Americans in an act of patriotic duty, to come together to combat climate change as a threat to national security.
A representative of a small wind project developer based outside of Albany, Molly Dunkin, said the office’s proposed standards and conditions will speed up the approval siting process to help combat climate change, but will also protect north country communities because they will “reduce uncertainty for all parties, encourage developers to act responsibly as well as require us to engage all stakeholders early and often and work well with their local laws.”
Ross Holbrook of the River Residents Against Turbines, also known as the “River Rats,” established to prevent the Horse Creek Wind Project slated for the Thousand Islands region said the proposed standards and conditions raised concerns about the amounts of local participation and opportunities to have their voices heard. He said he believes the use of the new process will lead to even more resentment from north country communities to projects that will not properly anticipate local impact.
Mr. Holbrook also expressed concern that there did not appear to be plans to make correspondence, documentation and studies available to the public as was previously the case in the Article 10 process through the Matter Master online files created for each project.
“This lack of transparency is concerning and perhaps the precursor for what is to come,” Mr. Holbrook said.
A resident of Lansing in Tompkins County, Mike Sigler, said he supports solar and even has solar panels on his farm, but has concerns about the three utility-scale solar projects being sited in his town that will cover about 3,500 acres – the equivalent, he noted, of about three airports the size of the one that exists in Lansing to serve Ithaca – and has started a petition that has about 200 signatures at this point.
“I’m not saying lets not do these but that seems like a lot of burden to put on one lone town,” Mr. Sigler said.
He worries that solar farms are using too much working agricultural land and will ruin the beauty of the area and that the new standards, conditions and regulations won’t do much to prevent that from happening. He specifically called into question the 100-foot setbacks and vegetation planting requirements around solar fields in the proposed rules as insufficient.
One of the three solar farms in Lansing are located on an old utility plant site which Mr. Sigler praised as the type of site that makes sense to him. was praised by Mr. Sigler as one that made sense.
Additional virtual public hearings on the proposed standards and conditions for renewable energy project siting open to comments statewide will be held on Nov. 24 and Nov. 30. Comments on the proposed regulations will be accepted by mail, email or online until Dec. 7.
The proposed documents and further information can be found on the Office of Renewable Energy Siting website at ORES.ny.gov.
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