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POWER PROJECT BILL OK'D

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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New rules giving committees in Albany decision-making power on siting power projects at or above 25 megawatts passed overnight Tuesday night in the state Senate and Assembly.


Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, voted against the measure in a 117-13 vote. State Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, voted against the bill in a 59-3 Senate tally.


"While there are many provisions in this law I support, I could not vote for a law that would take control away from local communities," Mrs. Ritchie said in a news release. "The provisions that would allow projects as small as 25 megawatts to avoid local control left me no choice but to vote against this measure."


Mrs. Russell explained her opposition Tuesday night, saying that it usurped local control on siting projects in communities.


"I'm concerned that local communities will lose their say, despite the fact that they can hire an attorney to state their case," she said. "I am not sure it strikes the proper balance, given how important I feel local autonomy is."


In north country concerns, the new process could play a role in wind farm proposals. Wind power advocates, locally and at the state level, supported recreating Article X.


"A comprehensive, streamlined process for siting new power plants, especially for clean energy projects like wind farms, will have a dramatic positive impact on the state's goal of providing affordable and reliable energy, improving our environment, and creating jobs and economic growth through energy policy," Carol E. Murphy, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, said in a news release.


Mr. Blankenbush, in explaining his vote, pointed to opposition to offshore turbines in Jefferson County last year.


"When I was chairman of the Jefferson County Legislature, we made the local determination to deny the giant wind project in the waters of Lake Ontario," he said. "Under this bill we wouldn't have been allowed to make such a decision."


He called the move to decisions in Albany "troubling."


"Albany's 'one size fits all' policy rarely works and ultimately, the decision on whether to explore or erect alternative energy generation solutions should be left to the locality it will affect," Mr. Blankenbush said. "Local rule has worked well in my district and I'd like to see it continue that way."


The bill includes a grandfather provision for those projects already in consideration at a local level to avoid the Article X process. But developers may decide to pull local applications and appeal for the process in front of a Public Service Commission siting board instead.


Officials from BP Wind Energy, planning the 134-megawatt Cape Vincent Wind Farm, and Iberdrola Renewables, planning the 96-megawatt Horse Creek Wind Farm, 150-megawatt Stone Church Wind Farm and roughly 100-megawatt North Ridge Wind Farm, said they will be reviewing their options.


"We will need to understand the impacts to the costs and timeline for the project before making a decision," Timothy Q. Conboy, project manager for Acciona Wind Energy USA's 76.5-megawatt St. Lawrence Wind Farm, said in an email. "Regardless of what permitting process we ultimately choose, we are committed to continuing to work with the local community and public agencies."


The bill, a result of a three-way agreement among legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, will become law after Mr. Cuomo signs it.


The law, known as the "Power NY" Act, enables a streamlined, one-year permitting process for building power plants. Those with an interest in the project would have access to a pot of money from the developer, called the intervenor fund. Each project would be considered by a siting board that would include locally appointed community representatives. State agencies would be responsible to check for environmental harm and benefits.


Mrs. Ritchie supports the creation of an intervenor fund to help local communities protect their rights and interests in siting cases and provisions that will create "on-bill financing" to help homeowners lower their energy costs by improving the efficiency of their homes, also included in Power NY.


"New York needs a new Article X bill that will allow the construction of major energy projects, like nuclear, natural gas powered, biomass, and even clean coal projects," Mrs. Ritchie said. "But this bill gives too much power to faceless Albany bureaucrats to make decisions about the future of our community. The people in my district don't want to give Albany unlimited power over what happens in their backyard, and neither do I."

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