WNY legislators seek delay in state law for siting renewable energy projects
Pandemic makes public gatherings for hearings impossible, while patchy internet service limits many rural residents if hearings on-line
A group of state legislators from Western New York is asking for a delay in implementing a new state law for siting large-scale renewable energy projects.
Several legislators on April 20 sent a letter to Secretary of State Rossana Rosado asking for a postponement of hearing dates for the development of new energy initiatives as part of the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act.
The recently passed state budget included the Act, which would speed up the process in siting renewable energy projects that are 25 megawatts or more.
“As home to the Niagara Power Project, the recently shuttered coal plants, and numerous proposed renewable energy projects, there is arguably no region in the state more directly impacted by energy policy than Western New York,” according to the letter from legislators.
The letter was signed by state senators Rob Ortt, Christopher Jacobs, Patrick Gallivan, George Borrello and Michael Ranzenhofer, as well as State Assembly members Michael Norris, Steve Hawley and Angelo Morinello.
The legislators said the state has approved a major change in the energy siting process. The legislation tasked the Department of State for developing a uniform siting standard over the next year, and required the Department of State to hold four public hearings.
But the Covid-19 pandemic will make holding public hearings nearly impossible, legislators said.
“Social distancing guidelines will prevent a physical gathering for the time being,” according to their letter. “While internet-based conferencing can be effective in some areas, it would not be appropriate for these public forums.”
The legislators said the solar and wind energy projects are almost exclusively sited in rural communities, which often lack access to reliable high-speed internet.
“Holding an online public hearing would deprive many rural residents of their ability to be heard and included in this process,” the legislators said.
They asked the Secretary of State to postpone hearings and developing siting standards until after our state of emergency has been lifted from Covid-19. Once it is safe to have the public hearings, one of those should be in WNY.
“Our residents have strong interest in siting policy, and our staffs would be happy to help you plan a hearing here,” the legislators said.