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Board of Supervisors on Renewable Energy: ‘Pay Us’

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 3/29/24 | 3/29/24

By Leila Crockett

MARCH — At the previous Schoharie County Board of Supervisors meeting, concerns were expressed regarding the County’s relationship with NYSAC (New York State Association of Counties) after a heated discussion regarding problems resulting from the Sharon NextEra Energy solar project. 

Ultimately, a motion was passed to discontinue paying dues to NYSAC. Supervisors felt there was a lack of support from NYSAC around the negotiation of energy contracts.  Specifically, as they relate to advocacy for host sites. This prompted a visit from the Director of NYSAC, Steven Aquario who was introduced by County Administrator Korsah Akumfi. Aquario was joined by NYSAC colleagues Deputy Mark Levine, Legislative Director Ryan Gregoire, and Attorney Pat Cummings.  

Aquario began his presentation with the pitch, “The Association, is your association. I work here for you on your behalf and for 64 counties in the state of New York.  It’s a beautiful organization. We’re the best in the United States by far.” Aquario encouraged supervisors to call him any time if the state of New York is not being responsive to them. 

Gilboa Town Supervisor Alicia Terry immediately asked, “You sure you got time for that?” which was met by muffled laughter until Aquario exclaimed, “Yes I do.  I will make time for you. You shouldn’t have to wait 6 weeks to hear from ESD(Empire State Department). “

The first slide in Aquario’s presentation lists the components of the organization's mission. Not least of which is, “To foster excellence in county government and unite the voice of New York’s county leaders.” Aquario brought up the increasing complexity of cyber security and pointed out that Delaware and Chenango counties both fell victim to recent cyber attacks to which he explained that rural counties are the most susceptible.  A topic that has been discussed by town supervisors countywide recently. 

Aquario explained his position as a “home rule guy” and that his goal is to not let state involvement take away power from the counties. He cited New York as a “Home Rule State” where county independence is written into the constitution. He went on to pull up a slide titled “Advocating for Your County", which listed a host of issues that NYSAC had worked on with the state. Among them were the Assigned Counsel Program, Raise the Age, CHIPS money, Cyber Security, and many more cases brought up by NYSAC for counties over the last five years totaling more than 14 Billion dollars toward NY County Government advocacy.  Aquario made a compelling case regarding the benefit of the County’s NYSAC membership. 

NYSAC continued its presentation with a short talk by Legislative Director Ryan Gregoire who went over an outline titled County Tools for Effective Advocacy: Keep Informed with NYSAC.  He talks about a weekly publication they produce called “The County Perspective” which is written by staff at NYSAC and highlights what is going on in Albany or Washington that could impact Counties. This is in addition to the NYSAC News Magazine which includes news articles from counties, best practices and innovations and the annual “NYSAC Legislative Program”. Gregoire encouraged Supervisors to use this roadmap or to join the NYSAC standing committee if they wanted to be more involved. 

At the conclusion of the NYSAC presentation, County Supervisor Bill Federice opted to begin the Q&A session immediately. Blenheim Supervisor Don Airey spoke first and was able to lay out a list of growing concerns about renewable energy contracts in the county, thanking NYSAC for information on available resources that “perhaps we’ve underutilized”. 

Airey began by pointing out that he was willing to share his position on the matter of Renewable Energy at the risk of being called a “climate denier and all the things that go along with that.” Initially, Airey cited the Blenheim Gilboa Pump Storage Projects, 12,000 MW of clean hydropower, “For 50 years we didn’t get one penny in taxation. Across this state right now, as you know, ETF has adopted a policy that is an absolute insult when it comes to proper assessment of renewable energy projects. Let’s face it, they’re getting a boatload of free money.  Host communities are being denied a fair and equitable tax rate on these projects.” 

Airey reiterated his concern about “host community benefits” and encouraged NYSAC to check out the NextEra work sites in Sharon to observe a litany of bad practices being engaged in by the developer. Airey claims that companies like NextEra are given a pass by agencies like the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation). 

Airey postulated that “home rule” is at the essence of concerns held by towns and that while these are renewable energy projects, they are also industrial energy projects which most towns are not eager to accommodate.  Especially when there is little to no benefit or monetary compensation even while the loss of prime farmland is permanent. Airey explained that any land designated for renewable energy projects is removed from potential County developmental options. He also touched on the loss of tourism revenue due to the aesthetic impact as well as the negative effects on property values. 

In closing, Airey said, we’re not going to get into the debate about whether they are good or bad, the debate should be “Give us a fair tax return.” 

After listening to Airey, Aquario maintained that NYSAC was steadfast in its commitment to the needs of the county and that he would be able to work within NYSAC to help address concerns.

County Supervisor Federice suggested a potential gathering of the counties to discuss the issues and come back to the state with talks.  

New York has long pushed to rely on 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030. It’s clear now the state is no longer on track, derailed by growing costs, canceled projects and regulators’ refusal to provide more ratepayer-funded subsidies.

Part of the problem is there are simply not enough existing, awarded and contracted projects in the pipeline to hit the 2030 target.  As a result, it seems that companies and attorneys are incentivized to streamline processes around SEQRA as the county has seen hasty solar project designs and FEAF filings that fail to identify potential impacts on communities and the environment accurately. 

A statement from NYSERDA president and CEO Doreen Harris seems to coincide with what Schoharie County Towns are reporting while damage to the environment and eroding public trust from hastily executed solar projects becomes apparent.  “We are working to accelerate not only the procurement of renewables but designing [them] to minimize delays and ensure projects are built on time for 2030.” 

This statement, which sheds light on the State’s push for expedience, came after a January that saw two offshore wind contracts with the state’s energy authority terminated, diminishing state’s inventory of investments set to be operational before the statutory deadline to reach 70 percent renewable electricity.

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