County lawmakers opposes Cuomo energy plan

Connor Hoffman/staffMike Outten discusses his opposition to the expansion of solar energy projects in Niagara County during Tuesday's legislature meeting. 

The Niagara County Legislature officially opposed a state budget amendment introduced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in an effort to speed up approval of large-scale renewable energy projects in New York state. 

On Feb. 21, Cuomo introduced a budget amendment that would set up a state bureaucracy to handle the permitting process for wind and solar developments. The measure is intended to to help the state reach a 70 percent "green" energy source target Cuomo set for 2030.

The measure would provide for the proposed Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), one year to issue a final decision on solar energy projects in New York. If the siting office fails to make a decision on a siting permit within the one-year window, then the permit would be automatically approved. 

During a meeting on Tuesday, members of the Niagara County Legislature voted to approve a resolution formally requesting the state budget amendment to be withdrawn. 

"All of these proposed changes are not only in conflict with our Home Rule rights, but are also contrary to our obligation to protect the health, safety and welfare of our constituents," the resolution reads. 

Three major renewable energy projects are being eyed in Niagara County. In the Cambria and Pendleton area, the Bear Ridge Solar Project would comprise 900 acres. In the Somerset and Yates area, the Lighthouse Wind Project, a 47-turbine wind project, is being proposed. In Hartland and Newfane, the Ridge View Energy Center, which would comprise 1,500 acres in Hartland and 500 in Newfane, is also being proposed.  

All three projects have been met with fierce grassroots opposition.

The approval of the resolution followed a lengthy public hearing which was held on a proposal for Niagara County to opt out of Section 487 of the New York Real Property Tax Law, which provides tax exemptions for solar or wind energy projects.

Michael Outten, the president of the coalition formed to oppose large-scale solar projects in rural communities, asked lawmakers to join residents in fighting "this thing" together. 

"The ramifications of these projects is huge to farmers," Outten said. "In fact, the next generation of farmers will diminish because of the need." 

Jeremy Verratti, a fourth generation farmer in Gasport, said farming can be hard sometimes financially and small farmer operators now have to either grow or diversify or get out of farming. He believes the proposed Ridge View Energy Center Project would be a great way for him to continue his traditional farming by supplementing it with renewable energy. 

"It’s a great opportunity for us to just be able to diversify ... It would allow us to put some of that ground into solar and still be able to farm around that," Verratti said. 

He concluded his comments asking the legislators "if not this, then what?" 

"It's an opportunity I believe for this county to move forward," Verratti said. 

Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey, R-Wilson, said legislators will take the residents' comments under consideration. They intend to hold a vote on the proposal to opt out of the tax exemptions law for solar and wind projects at the legislature's next meeting in April. 

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