There is much to commend about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s push to see renewable energy projects get underway throughout the state.
Policies enacted by the outgoing Trump administration have been antithetical to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming is having devastating effects on numerous people, and it’s a problem we cannot ignore.
So the fact that Cuomo has stepped up to become a leader in green energy projects is good. Some of the measures he’s implemented are what we need to advance the mission of slowing climate change.
However, Cuomo has been overly aggressive on some of his initiatives. In the third part of his State of the State Address, he said New York will contract for 24 new large-scale renewable energy projects this year. These include a a 20-megawatt solar project in Washington County, a 200-megawatt solar project in Orleans County, a 250-megwatt solar project in Montgomery County and a 90-megawatt solar project in Franklin County.
Cuomo delivered his annual State of the State Address virtually over four days last week; it usually is given in front of thousands of people on one day. On Jan. 13, his focus was on green energy projects.
“Climate change is real,” Cuomo said. “Green is good. Sea levels are rising; ice caps are shrinking. California is burning; the Arctic is melting. Deserts are flooding. We have a once-in-a-hundred years storm twice a year. Nature is telling us, ‘Do something, or I will.’ Every thinking person understands this reality.”
The problem with Cuomo’s new approach in pursuing these initiatives is that he’s cut out local input to a great extent. Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said the governor’s plans for Orleans County have raised eyebrows.
“Today’s announcement of a 200-megawatt solar energy project proposed for Orleans County displays the governor and his administration’s complete disregard for the opinions and desires of Orleans County residents,” Ortt said in a news release issued Jan. 13. “Residents and local officials have been vehemently opposed to industrial energy projects proposed in the past, yet Gov. Cuomo continues to ignore our concerns. Along with disrupting and destroying the quality of life where these projects are placed, they also raise energy costs for local businesses and families.”
The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act, passed last year as part of the 2021 state budget, removed renewable energy projects from the Article 10 process. Under Article 10, two local ad hoc representatives had the opportunity to consider proposed solar and wind projects as members of each New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment.
The act created the Office of Renewable Energy Siting under the Department of State. While the Public Service Department still oversees the Article 10 process, the Office of Renewable Energy Siting now reviews renewable energy projects. Community input has been greatly diminished when it comes to solar and wind.
Legislators and the governor altered the procedures for siting wind and solar projects to meet the ambitious goals they set out for themselves upon passing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in 2019. This mandates that the state obtain at least 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. In addition, New York must achieve zero-emission energy by 2040 and lower its greenhouse gas emissions by 85% when 2050 rolls around.
We appreciate Cuomo’s concern for adopting standards that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But this shouldn’t discard the will of Northern New Yorkers who will be forced to host projects to create energy for downstate users. Legislators must restore community representatives to this process so our voices will be heard.