Gov. Andrew Cuomo has an opportunity to put his “money where his mouth is.” He should seize it.
After a quick “fishing” trip to Wilson last week, to show off lovely Lake Ontario and the benefits of interstate cooperation to Connecticut Gov. Edward Lamont, Cuomo fielded questions from the press and public at a free-wheeling news conference. Among the not-fishing-related topics tossed into the forum was the proposed 100 megawatt Bear Ridge Solar Project, which would occupy roughly 900 acres of farmland in Cambria and Pendleton.
Specifically, Cuomo was asked for his view of the role of community input in the state’s decision — through an appointed siting board — whether to permit the electricity generation facility, which has generated heated opposition in its would-be host community.
At first, Cuomo’s reply sounds right on: “No project will move forward until the local community has their voices heard. … (I)f you don’t have local community members I don’t believe the project should go forward.”
But then, reality intrudes and we have to wonder whether the governor really knows what he’s saying — or sees the irony in his claim. The fact is, the power to ensure community input in any state siting review of the Bear Ridge Solar Project rests with him.
Article X of the state Public Service Law, which puts a seven-member appointed board in charge of review and permitting of 25 megawatt or more electric generating facilities, allows host municipalities to nominate four individuals for consideration as ad hoc members of the board. From that list, the state senate and assembly get first crack at appointing one community member each to the board, and if the houses don’t do so within a given period, then the governor gets to appoint two members from the list.
According to state Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, who represents Cambria and Pendleton, the senate and assembly leaders “failed to do their jobs” in timely fashion, meaning the ball is now in Cuomo’s court. And according to Cambria town supervisor Wright Ellis, as of the day of Cuomo’s visit to Wilson, no action had been taken on the towns’ nominees.
The danger for Cambria and Pendleton in foot-dragging on these appointments is clear. Article X says that, in the event the governor also fails to appoint local representatives within a certain time, a quorum of the siting board’s five permanent members — governor’s appointees, all — may meet and make a decision on a power project.
Looming in upstate generally, and over Niagara County especially of late, is the state’s Clean Energy Standard, through which the state and its power system are being pushed, by force of law, to obtain 100% “clean,” i.e. carbon-free energy sources, incrementally. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, just signed into law by Cuomo last month, mandates utilities to get 70% of their electricity from renewable sources (sun, wind, etc.) by 2030 and also requires the state to procure 6 gigawatts of distributed solar power by 2025.
Considering those mandates, it’s not a stretch to think the permanent members of the Article X siting board — the governor’s appointees, all — are not just ready, they’re eager to act on any solar generators’ permit applications. Time ‘til 2025 / 2030 is relatively short, after all. And the “process” undoubtedly would go more smoothly if the board doesn’t have to contend with pesky, parochial ad hoc’ers in its midst.
But Cuomo’s on the record telling every New Yorker that their state government is mindful of the need to respect the interests of host communities where energy projects are concerned: “No project will move forward until the local community has their voices heard. … (I)f you don’t have local community members I don’t believe the project should go forward.”
If he really means that, he can show it, effortlessly, by picking a pair of Cambria-Pendleton delegates to serve on the siting board. Now.
Even better, the state’s Green New Dealer in chief could get behind Rob Ortt’s proposal to fix a big flaw in Article X, by blocking the siting board from ruling on any large-scale energy project until representatives of affected host communities are appointed.