Gov's solar plan could mean ruin for upstate economies


By Patsy Nicosia

A plan to fast-track New York State’s solar and wind projects has supervisors here seeing red—and vowing that they won’t go down without a fight.
The Town of Sharon, where the proposed 50-megawatt, 352-acre East Point Energy Center solar project is already under review by the State Siting Board, could be the first to feel the impact of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal.
But it would also cripple economic development in all of the state’s rural communities, said members of supervisors’ Energy Committee and PILOT Negotiation Team, angry that they’ll be left footing the bill and holding the bag.
“We have to do what we can to fight this,” said Sharon Supervisor Sandy Manko Friday.
“We’re going to go down fighting. I don’t sleep nights, worrying about this. There’s something wrong with that.”
If it’s an uphill battle to take on Governor Cuomo, so be it, said Blenheim Supervisor Don Airey, chair of the Energy Committee.
“This is what we’re elected to do. We need to focus on the possibilities—not the impossibilities.”
Governor Cuomo’s proposal, unveiled just 10 days ago, would take state review of large solar projects out of the hands of DEC and the Public Service Commission and give it to a newly-created Office of Renewable Energy.
It also redefines “large.”
Now, projects 25 megawatts or larger are subject to state review under Article 10, with little local input; under the proposed budget amendment, that threshold would be dropped to 10 megawatts.
“So you know what that means: They’re all going to be 10-megawatt projects,” said Tony DiPace, who’s heading up PILOT talks with East Point developers NextEra Energy.
Mr. DiPace and others were long suspicious over the fact that the last PILOT talks they’d had with NextEra were on June 19, 2019.
Now, he said, they think they know why.
Because not only would the Governor’s proposal:
• Require a decision on applications within a year. (Talks with NextEra have already been going on more than two years with their formal application filed last September.)
• Not require municipalities to be notified of projects until the Office of Renewable Energy had already approved the draft permit.
• Eliminate the need for developers to pay intervenor funds—money municipalities can tap into to help pay for required studies.
It would, maybe most significantly, require NYSERDA—the state’s Energy and Research Authority—to be consulted regarding PILOTs.
The NYSERDA model for PILOTS is a fraction of what Sharon has been negotiating, Mr. DiPace said, and he has no plans of backing off on their demands.
“They can pay it or they can go on the tax rolls at full assessment,” he said, pointing out that PILOTS—tax breaks—are usually given in exchange for jobs, not the case with solar.
“If they don’t like our prices, they can go somewhere else. If they can’t make their project viable on what we’re asking, that’s not our problem.”
Another member of the PILOT Negotiating Team, Blenheim Supervisor Phil Skowfoe, said wind projects will also be impacted by the fast-tract plan, making rural communities in Central and Western New York potential allies in the fight against it.
And fight they will.
They’re reaching out to State Senator Jim Seward and Assemblyman Chris Tague and Ms. Manko is hoping for a solid turnout at the NextEra hearing March 19.
“If they think we’re giving up, they’re underestimating us,” Mr. Airey said, running through a long list of battles no one thought Schoharie County would win:
Successfully fighting Reunion Power’s plans for 33 industrial wind turbines in Richmondville, recovering from Hurricane Irene, stopping Constitution pipeline and fracking, and rebuilding the Blenheim Bridge.
It’s important to focus on the war to be won,” he said. “I detest the ‘They-sayers’. Some would say all of those things are small victories. But big things are made up of small things.”