The company proposing a 900-acre solar project in the Cambria and Pendleton area has delayed its anticipated project application to the state siting board in charge of approving or denying the project to sometime during the first half of 2020.
"The Municipalities, State Agencies, Interested Parties and Bear Ridge Solar project team are currently working on the stipulations phase of the Article 10 process. Once finalized, the stipulations will detail any additional studies that the Bear Ridge Solar project will need to perform before submitting its Article 10 Application, which is now planned in the first half of 2020," Bear Ridge Solar Project Developer Kevin Kohlstedt said in an emailed statement.
Article X of the state Public Service Law, which puts a seven-member appointed board in charge of reviewing and permitting any electric generating facility that generates 25 megawatts or more, allows host municipalities — Cambria and Pendleton in this case — to nominate four individuals for consideration as ad hoc members of the board. From that list, the state senate and assembly get the first opportunity to appoint one community member each to the board, and if the houses don’t do so within a given period, then the governor gets to appoint two members from the list.
As part of the Article 10 process, a Public Involvement Plan was submitted in the summer of 2018, and the timeline in the plan says the application would be submitted in August 2019. Kohlstedt said periodic updates of the project timeline were provided to the municipalities and stakeholder groups during project update meetings.
This predicted application timeline was before a grassroots group of citizens formed to question the project.
Kohlstedt attributed the delay to a thorough environmental review of the project and the 41 "exhibits" that need to be completed.
"These exhibits require significant consideration, study and preparation by the Bear Ridge project team as well as the municipalities and involved parties and therefore are subject to changes in schedule," Kohlstedt said.
Cambria Town Supervisor Wright Ellis said he isn't surprised by the new planned application date, adding that the stipulations phase is still going on.
Assembly member Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, said his belief is that the company is holding back on the application because "they are realizing not only the opposition to the lack of local input, but also evidence is coming out about how toxic the materials to make the solar panels are, or the inability to recycle them or dispose of them."
"I love hearing the fact that they’re recognizing they may have been trying to move too quickly," Morinello said.
Morinello noted that Cambria still has not had a local representative appointed to the state siting board, despite Pendleton having the Assembly appoint a representative at the end of October.
He is co-sponsoring a bill with Assembly member Michael Norris, R-Lockport, that would amend Article X to require a local referendum for large-scale energy projects in New York state. According to Norris, a project would still go through the Article X process and then appear as a referendum on the ballot, and it would not move forward if the local community rejects it.
Morinello also is drafting a bill to introduce in January that would require farmland taken for industrial purposes to be taxed at an industrial rate and not an agricultural rate.
Cypress Creek Renewables is aiming to lease 900 acres of private land throughout a 5,000-acre project area in southern Cambria and a portion of northern Pendleton.