Solar and wind projects throughout New York state — including those in Chautauqua County — could face new rules and more local scrutinuy if a recent court filing is successful.
Last week, local governments, community organizations and conservation and public interest groups across New York were set to file a lawsuit against the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting asserting a violation of New York State Environmental Quality Review Act. The lawsuit seeks to overturn regulations setting standard uniform conditions applicable to all renewable energy projects in the state, which keeps local comment out of the equation. The coalition of plaintiffs alleges the panel failed to acknowledge that its regulations for siting power plants could result in even one significant adverse environmental impact, and as a result failed to prepare and environmental impact statement.
The move marks one of the first challenges against the state office,which was recently created as part of Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act in the 2020-21 state budget.
The agency was created to fast-track siting for proposed industrial-scale renewable energy projects, and to assist New York in meeting its aggressive renewable energy goals. In creating a new energy plant siting process, the state agency ignored thousands of public comments in prioritizing speed over the robust review of environmental impacts. New York State Environmental Quality Review Act requires “all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors” when taking government action.
Growing concern surrounding the unforeseen consequence of New York state’s new expedited siting process was partially sparked by Hecate Energy’s proposed Shepherd’s Run solar facility in rural Copake and Craryville in Columbia County. The industrial-scale solar facility is proposed for more than 250 acres of natural resources, landscape, farmland in Copake. In 2017, the town of Copake enacted a prohibition on solar energy projects greater than 10 acres to ensure that developers respect its natural resources, farmland, wildlife, rural viewsheds, property values, and agriculture-and tourism-centric economy.
In response, Chicago-based Hecate Energy has committed to using the New York state process to bypass the town of Copake’s planning board and zoning laws, as well as overwhelming community opposition and concern.
Locally, solar projects are facing some pushback in Pomfret and in Ripley where the South Ripley Solar Project is proposing a 270 megawatt large scale-solar project, which will be located entirely within the town boundaries. The project will include a 20 MW of battery energy storage component and is expected to cost around $348 million to construct.
Wind projects, notably in Arkwright, Cassadaga, have recently been completed. Another slated to be done in Villenova could have towers nearly 600 feet. All these efforts, despite some protest, were locally approved.
The suit will seek a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to invalidate the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting regulations, and to require the agency to adopt new regulations based on performance of a full environmental impact statement studying the environmental effects that could result statewide from permits for large-scale renewable energy installations.