Ortt addresses local group opposing Cambria solar panel project

State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, speaks during Wednesday’s meeting of Cambria Opposition to Industrial Solar. 

A lobbying firm hired by Cypress Creek Renewables has been in contact both Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, and Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, between May and June of this year. 

Bolton St. Johns, a lobbying firm with offices in New York City, Albany and Buffalo, has been retained by Cypress Creek Renewables, the company proposing to build a 900-acre industrial solar project in Cambria and Pendleton.

A copy of a contract on file with the New York State Joint Commission of Public Ethics, which oversees lobbying activities statewide, shows the lobbying firm is being paid by Cypress Creek at a rate of $5,500 per month. The current contract between the two parties started on Dec. 4, 2018 and has an end date of Dec. 31, 2019.

Both Morinello and Ortt, representatives for Cambria, say they used a meeting with lobbyists to voice their dissatisfaction with the lack of local representation on the Article 10 of Public Service Law Siting Board that will decide the fate of a massive industrial solar project proposed in the Cambria and Pendleton area.

Morinello said he met with representatives of Cypress Creek, in his office, on June 3, and that he told them they had walked into "a very unfriendly" territory when they informed him who they were. He added that he criticized the representatives for trying to push their project on the area without local representatives on the Article 10 siting board. 

"I said, 'If you guys want to do me a favor, why not push for the governor to push the two local representatives?" Morinello said. "I said, 'You’re not going to win me over and I’m not going to be your advocate.' "

As far as he understands, Morinello said the representatives were from Cypress Creek and not Bolton St. Johns. He thought, perhaps, that Bolton St. John's set up the meetings. He explained that his legislative staff is in charge of taking calls and setting up meetings, and that he is presented with a daily calendar. He added that he meets with a variety of people at his Albany office, including teachers, union representatives, individuals and constituents. 

"They may have called to set up the meeting. To me, it wasn’t a lobbyist meeting," Morinello said. 

Andrew Dugan, a spokesperson for Ortt, said the senator met briefly with representatives of Bolton St. John and the conversation revolved around Ortt's desire for the local representatives on the siting board. 

Dugan said it was a conversation outside the legislative chambers. Dugan declined to provide the date of the meeting. 

"It was literally like a three-minute conversation outside the chamber," Dugan said. "It wasn't a sit-down meeting." 

In a statement, Cypress Creek Renewables said it has retained for several years firms and organizations to "help us engage with the legislature, a number of agencies, other associations, and the governor's office on a wide range of energy policy and marketing issues."

"This is very common for a company in the energy/electricity space as these markets are largely structured and managed by the state and NYISO, and this is also a time of great transition in those markets," the company added. 

Cypress Creek also expressed their desire for local representatives to be added to the siting board. 

"The only thing we've engaged with the area legislative delegation about to date is focusing attention on the work of getting two local representatives appointed to the Article 10 Siting Board," the company said. "We have been working in alignment with the communities to do what we can to help make this happen to ensure a transparent and inclusive review process. We will continue to work to secure those appointments."

Cypress Creek Renewables, the company proposing the Bear Ridge Solar Project, would like to lease 900 acres of private land throughout a 5,000-acre project area in southern Cambria and a portion of northern Pendleton. The developers plan to install solar panels mounted in rows on racking systems up to 12 feet high. The panels would be visible from a distance of about 1-1/2 miles, including from sites on Bear Ridge Road and IDA Park Drive in Lockport.

Residents have formed the grassroots group, Cambria Opposition to Industrial Solar, to organize against the project. The Cambria and Pendleton Town Boards also officially opposed the project because it would violate the town's zoning ordinance.

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