Niagara County forming group to confront large-scale energy projects

A Cambria resident in the 4200 block of Saunders Settlement Road has brought out the big signs in protest of the proposed solar farm.

Local officials are grappling with the possible inclusion of Article 23, or the “Renewable Energy Act,” in New York state’s 2020-21 budget. Some municipalities have already resolved to become “Article 23 Sanctuary Towns,” pledging opposition to the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal whether or not it’s approved with the budget.

Article 23 is a proposed amendment to the budget which would streamline the siting process of large-scale, green energy projects by giving siting decisions for these projects to a state agency, bypassing local and zoning laws. This is on the heals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which passed in 2019 and stated the state’s goal of generating 70% of its electricity from renewable sources.

“I’m not for Article 23,” said Jeffrey Dewart, supervisor of the Town of Somerset. “It takes away, basically, all our rights in our town, our zoning and our comprehensive plan and everything.”

The Town of Somerset officially declared itself a “Article 23 Sanctuary Town,” joining the Town of Yates in Orleans County in passing a resolution defying the governor’s proposal and pledging, “should the Article 23 Amendment become law, that the Town of Somerset will not provide any local resources or cooperation towards approval, administration, and/or enforcement of any permits issued pursuant to Article 23.”

Earlier this week, the Royalton town board adopted a similar resolution stating Cuomo’s stated goal — to streamline the siting process of large scale, green energy projects — is an affront to the town’s powers under the New York State Town Law and Home Rule Law. The actual siting of these projects would proceed through the Office of Renewable Energy Permitting, a state agency that would be created with the passing of Article 23, and would bypass the normal siting process usually held by each municipality.

“We don’t need it,” said Supervisor Daniel Bragg, responding to the monetary incentives offered by solar development companies and stating that the tax base is already well-funded by housing development projects.

The Town of Hartland’s situation has become a particularly divided community in its grappling with the possibility of Article 23. For the time being, the town is set to discuss a resolution to formally oppose the act and its desire to continue under Article 10, to show the state its concern.

“We want to stay with Article 10 because it gives us Home Rule,” Supervisor Ross Annable said, but also explained the town board will not pick a side until an independent study is completed. “We’re not taking a position on this until we’re educated on it. There will be an independent study which we’ll relate to the public and through polling decide where our support will be.”

State Assembly Member Michael Norris, R-Lockport is “ridiculously opposed” to Article 23, said his spokesman Paul Bologna. However, without seeing the completed budget bill, Bologna said, Norris is unable to say he would vote “no” on it even if the controversial act is included in the budget.

When asked as to how he would fight Article 23 if it was included in the budget, State Sen. Robert Ortt sent a statement saying, “Including Article 23 in the budget process is unacceptable, and I’ll continue to work with local governments and legislators to make them aware of this dangerous energy proposal. The governor and Democrat legislators may believe that by linking this disastrous policy to other essential funding – such as public protection, education, and health – they’ll avoid having to discuss it. But they’ll have to defend it when local governments and residents realize that their rights are being stripped away.”

Cuomo announced the “Renewable Energy Act” as a 30-day amendment he would attach to the 2020 New York state budget in February.

“Climate change is the existential challenge of our time, and New York state has risen to the occasion by enacting the strongest laws in the nation to protect and preserve our environment,” Cuomo said when announcing the amendment. “This legislation will help achieve a more sustainable future, invigorating the green economy and reaffirming New York’s position as a market leader with a revamped process for building and delivering renewable energy projects faster.”

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