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Another Voice: State siting statute is rigged against local communities

By Dennis C. Vacco

Article 10, a state statute enacted in 2011 was created to centralize the decision-making process regarding the siting of large alternative energy projects. The law was designed to create the illusion that local governments would still have a voice in decisions which would affect land usage in their towns. Unfortunately, the Article 10 siting process is rigged against local governments.

A recent announcement by the New York State Energy Research Development Authority that it was approving funding for wind turbine projects before the proposed projects have gone through the Article 10 review process exposes how the process is unfairly influenced against the interests of town governments and their citizens. Every executive agency is desperate to achieve Gov. Cuomo’s self-mandated goal of obtaining 50 percent of New York's electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and in doing so are preordaining projects before they go through a thorough vetting process.

The Article 10 process mandates input by local governments and various stakeholders, including the taxpayers and those directly impacted by these projects.

Look no further than the towns of Somerset and Yates in Niagara County to get a sense that perhaps all of the hard work and advocacy advanced against a proposed industrial wind operation on the shores of Lake Ontario is being done for naught. This includes outright opposition to the project by various stakeholders, including state elected officials representing Somerset, Congressman Chris Collins and the largest business organization in Niagara County among a host of others.

NYSERDA’s financial support of proposed projects long before any project has undergone the scrutiny of the Article 10 review process suggests that Article 10 is nothing more than an illusion to create the impression that stakeholders at the local level will be heard. NYSERDA’s actions signals that Gov. Cuomo is more interested in picking the energy winners and losers to advance his own national political agenda, than he is concerned about local residents in the project areas.

There are plenty of communities across New York State that have welcomed industrial wind operations and others are lining up to host them. Then there are communities like Somerset and Yates who have spoken loud and clear that they don’t want this type of development. Advancing a political agenda should not be at the expense of communities like Somerset and Yates who simply don’t want their community marred by 700 foot tall wind turbines.

It is no coincidence that in creating the Article 10 siting board that those responsible for making decisions are based in Albany and are appointees of the governor. These individuals include the head of NYSERDA and the NY Green Bank and the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

NYSERDA’s funding decision corrupts the review process and highlights the reality that decisions through Article 10 are not being made through deliberation, but by edict.

Dennis C. Vacco is a former New York State attorney general. He is a partner with the law firm of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP.

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