Opposition to new energy agency grows

File photoIn this 2019 file photo, Joe Kenneally inspects solar panels on the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse. Opposition to a state budget amendment that would create a new state agency regulating siting of renewable energy facilities is growing as officials fear the amendment would cost them home rule over siting.

COPAKE — The Copake Town Board drafted a resolution to oppose Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 30-day state budget amendment that local officials fear would take away local control over renewable energy projects.

Announced Feb. 21, the proposed 30-day amendment to the 2020 proposed budget would create a new state agency, the Office of Renewable Energy Siting.

The amendment was drafted with the intention of speeding up progress toward the state mandate to obtain 70 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Hecate Energy is seeking a Certificate of Environmental Compatability and Public Need for a solar project in Copake. The 700-acre project, Shepherd’s Run, is slated for areas of pasture on Route 23 and Route 7 in the hamlet of Craryville, connecting to the existing substation.

The new office would eliminate or substantially restrict the Town of Copake’s ability to regulate renewable energy projects, the proposed resolution said.

In 2011, the town of Copake adopted a comprehensive plan and enacted revised zoning regulations consistent with that plan.

In 2017, Copake enacted a solar law having “determined that comprehensive zoning regulations regarding the development of solar energy systems are necessary to protect the interests of the town, its residents, its farmland and its businesses.”

As proposed, Shepherd’s Run exceeds the town of Copake’s 10-acre limit on utility-scale solar energy systems.

The state Constitution and Municipal Home Rule Law grant local autonomy to municipalities, particularly with respect to local land use regulation.

According to the act, the new office would work in consultation with the state Energy Research and Development Authority, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Public Service, the Department of Agriculture and Markets and other relevant state agencies and authorities with subject matter expertise.

The Alliance for Clean Energy New York supports the amendment to the budget, adding that it takes five to 10 years for a solar project to be built under current regulations.

“Renewable energy needs to be sited, interconnected, and permitted more rapidly if the State of New York is to meet these nation-leading standards,” according to the ACE NY memorandum of support.

In Coxsackie, the Flint Mine solar project is underway. Town Supervisor Richard Hanse said the board and constituents have been contacting their state representatives, state Sen. George Amedore Jr., R-46, and Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, to voice their opposition to the budget amendment.

The proposed amendment was introduced in a manner that effectively precludes municipalities from analyzing and commenting on the matter, according to the resolution.

The prior regulation to authorize construction and operation of major electric generating facilities, Article 10, was enacted in 2011 as part of state Public Service Law.

Article 10 creates a siting board for application review, consisting of five permanent members and two ad hoc public members, appointed from a list of nominees provided by the project’s local government.

The two ad hoc members are appointed “for the special purpose of providing a local voice in each proceeding conducted to consider specific individual applications for candidates,” according to the state Article 10 website.

“It respects local control with a one-year permit approval timeframe, the same provision for projects to comply with local laws as Article 10 and sets aside intervenor funds for governments to hire the experts they need to establish their community norms,” according to the ACE NY memorandum.

With the passing of the resolution, the Town of Copake would formally object to the establishment of major state policy initiatives through the state budget process.

The town board “opposes the proposed budget amendment and any attempts to diminish Copake’s authority to establish and enforce its land use regulations,” according to the resolution.

Copake Town Supervisor Jeanne Mettler said the town board will discuss the proposed resolution at its March 12 meeting at 7 p.m. At that time, the public will also be able to make comments.

Abby Hoover is a reporter for the Register-Star. Contact her at ahoover@registerstar.com or (518) 828-1616 x 2500.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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