New York’s unequal trade: Home rule for electricity

A 51.5 KW solar array was installed in 2013 at Crosby's on the corner of Old Niagara Road and Lake Avenue in Lockport. 

In the most recent battle over laws to free up or block farm land from hosting large scale solar and wind energy generation facilities, state officials representing Niagara County this week declared they are all staunchly opposed to the proposed state law dubbed “575-b.”

Local municipalities have loudly opposed each new renewable energy-related edict from Albany as a matter of defending home rule. While the new state-controlled siting process for renewable energy projects means utilities could be forced on local communities, state Assembly Member Angelo Morinello says current Real Property Law at least gives municipalities the power to score a fair deal with the utilities assessment- and tax-wise.

However, that existing law may be undone this year. Morinello and other critics of 575-b say it takes away local municipalities’ right to assess the market value of solar and wind energy projects. Instead, the assessments would be done by a state agency.

“It’s so unfair to continue to move the goalposts on these communities,” Morinello said, adding that 575-b is another example of the state taking power away from local governments.

“It is appalling that the governor continues to erode local control over the issues affecting individual cities, towns and villages,” Morinello said. “Taking away the ability of self control does and self regulation is not democracy and I will continue to advocate for the local control.”

Assembly Member Mike Norris also is opposed to 575-b, which has been inserted into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2021-2022 state budget.

“These massive energy projects should be assessed under the cost approach and within the discretion of the local municipal assessing unit,” Norris said.

State Sen. Rob Ortt views 575-b as an attempt to finally “erase” local voices in the discussion about where clean-energy generation facilities belong.

“Thanks to local control, legislators, residents and local opposition groups have been successful in pushing back against unwanted industrial energy projects. Now, the Governor has proposed changing the rules to erase local control and local voices from the decision-making process entirely,” Ortt said. “Cuomo and Albany Democrats don’t care about local voices and are intent on seeing their Green New Deal agenda forced upon us whether we like it or not.”

The governing boards of the towns of Hartland, Cambria, Lewiston and Wheatfield have adopted resolutions opposing 575-b, and Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey plans to ask the county legislature to follow suit in support of the towns.

“He (Cuomo) wants to decide where (energy projects) can go, how they can go, and decide how much or how little the towns can tax them accordingly,” Godfrey said.

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