Yates Town Board pushes back on governor’s proposal for siting large-scale energy projects
YATES – The Town Board is sending a message to Albany that it doesn’t want the state to take more control over siting large-scale solar and wind energy projects.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Feb. 21 announced Article 23 in a budget amendment. The governor wants to speed up the review of energy projects and give the state more authority in siting projects which can currently take years to get through local and state approvals, often with stiff opposition from the local communities.
Cuomo wants to ensure that complete applications are acted upon within one year, except in the case of certain former commercial and industrial sites, which will be reviewed within six months.
Cuomo proposed creating a new Office of Renewable Energy Permitting to improve and streamline the process for siting of large-scale renewable energy projects. The governor said the projects deliver significant benefits to local communities.
Yates town officials see the governor’s proposal as an attack on home rule, with a loss of local control.
“This completely takes the town out of the process,” said Town Councilman John Riggi.
The Yates Town Board unanimously passed a resolution opposing the governor’s proposed Article 23. The resolution states Yates has a comprehensive plan for land use and local zoning laws to guide residential and commercial development.
“The Article 23 Amendment, if passed, would greatly limit the role of local zoning laws, avoid critical reviews of local environmental conditions requiring mitigation, allow the State to take certain lands through eminent domain and make them available to developers for construction of power plants, and limit a town’s taxation and assessment powers,” the resolution states.
The Barre Town Board approved a similar resolution on Wednesday. Barre and Yates both are eyed for large-scale wind turbine projects. A company also is proposing an 1,800-acre solar project in Barre and Shelby.
Yates is asking the governor to withdraw Amendment 23, which Cuomo proposed after state hearings in January.
Yates town officials said the proposal skirted the normal legislative process. Such a significant change in how the state sites energy projects shouldn’t be adopted as a budget amendment, Yates Town Supervisor Jim Simon said.
If the amendment is approved, the Yates resolution also states the town won’t provide its local resources or cooperation towards approval, administration and enforcement of any permits issued through Article 23.
Town Board members Jim Whipple and Susan Hrovat said the town still needs to follow state laws, even if legislation is passed that so board members don’t agree with. Whipple also had concerns with declaring the town an “Article 23 Sanctuary Town.”
Councilman Riggi said Yates was using some of the governor’s own language with that declaration.
“I think we’re being a little dramatic with ‘sanctuary town,’” Whipple said.
Resident Agnes Recco told the board she thought they were being disrespectful to the governor, especially when moments earlier the board voted to accept a state grant for more than $2 million to upgrade the town park.
“I’m objecting to you bashing the governor,” Recco said.
Town Supervisor Jim Simon said the board is sending a message over policy to the governor. Simon said he may disagree with Cuomo “100 percent” on Article 23, but the town supervisor still supports Cuomo, especially as he leads the state’s response efforts to the coronavirus.
“I pray for him,” Simon said at the Town Board meeting. “This is a tough situation we’re in. There needs to be a lot more respect for leaders.”
Simon urged residents to check in on elderly shut-ins and be good neighbors while social activities are curtailed with the coronavirus response.