1:56pm

Wed October 5, 2011
Energy

Energy law opponents bristle at Albany "dictating their destiny"

It was just a single bullet point in a giant omnibus energy bill.  

Tucked between energy efficiency initiatives in the Power NY Act, Article X (pronounced "article ten"), had support from advocates for green power, who wanted to make it simpler to site new power plants in New York.

But now that single bullet point has blossomed into something else: a fight.

Streamlining the siting process

Article X provides a uniform, statewide review process for power projects that would generate 25 MW and up. It's supposed to help power projects overcome the sometimes complex web of local reviews and regulations.

"It's been tough - I think it's been very tough," is how Matt Nelligan describes the process of siting a power plant in New York. Nelligan is legislative director for the office of state senator George Maziarz, who chairs the Senate's energy committee.

"It's been very expensive," he notes further. "And what [Article X] does is provide a streamlined process."

But 25 MW isn't a lot of power, which means that the state now has control over some very small scale, very local projects - projects that tend to kick up local opposition.

"Dictating their destiny"

Opponents to Article X maintain they're as concerned about local home rule as they are about some of the small wind projects that the law will apply to. But when you map proposed wind projects that are garnering local opposition, they line up closely with a recently spate of local resolutions opposed to Article X.

Here's an example. In its resolution expressing opposition to the legislation [DOC], the scenic North Country town of Henderson's town board registered its concern that:

[D]espite the effort the Town has put into protecting its scenic resources, there is a real possibility that the Town of Henderson will be forced to accept the construction and operation of 230 kV extra high voltage power lines right through the heart of the Town.

Henderson lies in the 50-mile long transmission corridor that would connect the proposed wind project for Galloo Island to the state's power grid. But the town itself has an outright ban on commercial wind turbines. 

Town Supervisor Ray Walker says the ban, which came after a series of public meetings, seems to be what his town wants.

"When we made the decision to ban [wind turbines], no one said we did wrong. I don't know what you knew about town of Henderson but it's very vocal," he says.

The same transmission line from the Galloo project would run through Oswego County, which also voiced opposition to the project. Oswego County, along with Jefferson County, have both stated their opposition to offshore wind in Lake Ontario.  And both counties have offered anti-Article X resolutions. Both were written using language from the Coalition on Article X, or COAX.

John Byrne is a spokesman for COAX and hails from another town facing wind development: Cape Vincent. In September, anti-wind candidates swept the local elections with a wave of absentee votes coming from seasonal residents.  

Byrne says municipalities "don't want Albany dictating their destiny ... And when [Albany takes] over that power plant siting, it's got to make somebody wonder 'what's next?'"

Byrne declined to provide names of other towns considering Article X resolutions, saying he'd prefer to wait until they're closer to passage.

An evolving statute

Article X replaces a similar, older state statute on power siting, which lapsed a decade ago. According to Nelligan, it was rewritten with new renewable technologies in mind - which is why it applies to smaller projects.

Nelligan says the new process brings technical expertise to all power projects, but leaves room for local input. He says the new process also requires developers to create what's called the "intervenor fund" - money that will pay for local technical and legal inquiries into projects.

Given that Article X has been already been written into state law, the resolutions against it are unlikely to have much effect, according to Nelligan. But that doesn't mean that the outcry will die down. The legislation is now being written into regulations - and that comes with a public comment period.