New York state Assembly members Angelo J. Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, and Mike Norris, R-Lockport, are co-sponsoring a bill that would amend Article 10 of the Public Service Law to require a local referendum for large-scale energy projects in New York state.

The move comes as Cypress Creek Renewables is seeking permission to develop Bear Ridge Solar, a 100 megawatt solar project on 900 acres in Cambria and Pendleton; and EDF Renewables is proposing the 350 megawatt Ridge View Solar Energy Center on 2,000 acres in Hartland and Newfane.

Under Article 10, energy companies can facilitate and establish new facilities without input or approval from host communities. For example, the siting board for the Bear Ridge Solar project currently does not have any local representation and the board can meet without the nominated local representatives.

“There’s no question, we need representatives from the public to have a seat at the table,” Morinello said. “The emergence of green and renewable energy sources is imperative for the future of our state’s environment and economy, but each type of energy comes at a cost to taxpayers and local residents. Solar and wind energy facilities need considerable amounts of land. Many rural communities in Western New York enjoy their peace and quiet and fear new facilities will diminish the lives they’re accustomed to. The bill proposed by Assemblyman Norris and I will stop outside influences from forcing their will on rural communities and give a voice to local residents concerned with new energy projects.”

Norris said if the bill were to pass it would call for a local referendum following the approval of a local siting board. He noted that if a siting board approved a project and the community then rejects it, the project would not move forward.

Article 10 of the Public Service Law puts a seven-member appointed board in charge of reviewing and permitting any electric generating facility that generates 25 megawatts or more. Host municipalities can 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.

In the event the governor also fails to appoint local representatives within a certain time, a quorum of the siting board’s five permanent members — governor’s appointees, all — may meet and make a decision on a power project.

A request for comment to the governor’s office was responded to by the spokesman for the siting board, James Denn, who said no ad hoc appointments for the siting board have been made.

“However, a decision regarding the project is well over a year away given that the company has not yet submitted an application. The siting process seeks out local input. Funding is available for community members to be part of the process and there will be local hearings. These appointments are the legislature’s responsibility in first instance,” Denn wrote.

Denn added that his department will looking into “this specific situation” and if “local representation hasn’t been selected we’ll help with that process.”

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