Wind turbines near Interstate 90 that sit unused and inoperable are just one reason state Sen. George Borrello wants the state Department of Environmental Conservation to take more time on renewable energy proposals.
During state budget hearings earlier this week, Borrello questioned Basil Seggos, state DEC commissioner, about the DEC’s role in preserving the environment and ecology during a sped-up process to site renewable energy projects throughout the state. Moving so quickly on renewable energy siting, Borrello said, stands in opposition to the DEC’s mission to protect the state’s ecology and environment.
Borrello, the Sunset Bay Republican and former Chautauqua County Executive, held up the immobile wind turbines as just one example of fast-tracked projects that haven’t panned out. The turbines were to save the state $300,000 a year in utility costs, but even at that rate it would have taken the turbines 16 years to pay for their $5 million cost. The turbines have been taken offline waiting for replacement parts and maintenance that has not happened in the last three years.
“We’ve been able to fast-track projects that have bypassed protecting natural habitats and endangered species,” Borrello said. “That’s really my concern is that this ‘fast tracking’ is also bypassing the normal DEC due diligence we have when it comes to clean energy. There is also probably no greater representation of that than the Thruway Authortiy and their fast-tracking of those industrial wind turbines they placed at Thruway exits in Western New York that now stand as a symbol of government waste. But, also, there were no public hearings. They did not adhere to any of the DEC rules and now, because they are inoperable because they were purchased from a foreign company that is now bankrupt and can no longer get parts, they stand as really a symbol of what happens when you fast track something. … I’m incredibly concerned when we’re talking about offshore wind in our freshwater lakes. I understand there is a need and a push for renewable energy, but how will DEC ensure we are not causing more damage than we are doing anything beneficial?”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2021-22 executive budget proposes adding seven positions to the DEC’s staff to support the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act program – which would include fast-tracked renewable energy siting.
Last year the state Legislature approved consolidating the environmental review and permitting of major renewable energy facilities in New York state into a new office of Renewable Energy Siting, as opposed to the state Public Service Commission.
The new agency sets uniform standards for siting, design, construction and operation of renewable energy facilities in consultation with NYSERDA, the state DEC, Public Service Department, Department of Agriculture and Markets and other relevant state agencies and authorities. Projects are to be approved in a year rather than the old process under the Public Service Department that could take years.
Seggos said that additional staffing is one answer to Borrello’s question. The DEC, he said, was involved in creating the new Office of Renewable Energy Siting, which gave the DEC a lot of input in how environmental questions are answered. Additional staff is needed to help the agency evaluate applications quickly enough to meet the state’s timelines.
“I know we can accomplish that with a degree of urgency because the climate crisis is an urgent matter,” Seggos said. “We know that we have to reprioritize the way we do business in New York and certainly within DEC to be able to respond to some of these applications that are coming across. I know we can do it. My staff is empowered to do that. That’s why we’re asking the legislature for support to increase our staffing levels within the climate office. That will then help us address some of the concerns that you raise about the ecoloigical impacts.”
During his testimony to legislators, Seggos also noted that Cuomo’s budget proposal includes a plan expand youth hunting to allow junior hunters ages 12 to 13 to hunt big game when accompanied by a parent, guardian, or mentor and to expand the use of crossbows during big game season.
Seggos also said the DEC is asking for clarification regarding the types of reusable bags that are permissible under the state’s bag ban.