Northern New York Newspapers
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Sun., Oct. 4
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Off and running


It should not have taken Cape Vincent officials long to see that they’d better get their track shoes on if they hope to have any influence on the state’s review of BP’s application for the Cape Vincent Wind Farm.

Under Article X of Public Service Law, an application for any energy production facility bypasses local regulatory bodies and goes before a state siting board, which must shepherd the application through in 12 months. BP was facing a process at the town level that had little to no chance of being reviewed within a year, but with the passage of Article X, it’s like the company was able to jump in a plane to avoid all the traffic on local roads. What the town now fears is that BP will be in first class while the town struggles back in coach seats.

BP is the first company to apply for a project in the north country under the revised state law, and it is too early to say just how this process will go. The siting boards can, but do not have to, bypass local regulations. If it deems them arbitrary, it can overrule them. If, on the other hand, local restrictions are found to be reasonable, the board can incorporate them in the review.

Now, if you believe that is going to happen, I’m pleased to tell you that for a modest sum of money, I can make the Thousand Islands Bridge yours.

Each siting board will have two local members, appointed by the affected municipality at the approval of the governor. This will be the first test of just how much local impact is likely. If Cape Vincent’s choices for the siting board are not accepted, it could be interpreted as a sign that local input is not really desired, thank you very much for asking. In fact, municipalities such as Cape Vincent should appoint the most qualified, knowledgeable people they can find to sit on siting boards. If those nominees are then rejected, it will speak volumes about how the law will be upheld.

The alternative — nominating prowind or antiwind members — will just give the state an excuse to marginalize local input on the siting boards.

It is too early in the process to see whether Article X is just a mechanism to bulldoze energy projects through to approval. To its credit, the Public Service Commission rejected BP’s boilerplate community involvement proposal, sending the company back to create a legitimate plan to inform and involve Cape Vincent residents in the process. That alone isn’t sufficient to suggest the state agency will keep a tight rein on energy companies. The walking disaster that was the Long Island Lighting Co., and the continuing customer service problems of first Niagara Mohawk and now its successor, National Grid, suggest that PSC is not the tightly wound, highly efficient state watchdog we might want it to be. And when you have regulatory bodies that are subject to the whim of political appointment, as siting boards likely will be, objectivity can come into question.

No matter the intangibles, the pace at which BP is moving this application along is sufficient warning to municipalities that to be a part of the process, you cannot drag your heels. Towns like Cape Vincent and Lyme and Clayton and Hammond, all of which have passed laws regulating commercial wind farm operations, will be bypassed and marginalized if their leaders are not ready to run with the big dogs, the companies that want to build these often massive wind projects. Cape Vincent is trying; it has been in touch with PSC with concerns over the public involvement plans and has warned the agency it won’t tolerate the potential conflict of interest from a BP attorney’s spousal relationship with a PSC commissioner. This is good. But towns like Cape Vincent might not have the fire power to maintain local involvement without experienced counsel, and it would be better to have that legal help sooner rather than later.

And Town Councils that will be nominating members of a project siting board should have their nominees in place now, not after a company initiates an Article X review.

In a perfect world, Article X was passed to provide the state with a consistent and cohesive energy approval process, to insulate it both from “anything goes” towns that love the sound of jingling silver and the “not in our backyard” towns that would never approve any project. Somewhere within that framework, however, local voices must be heard. Officials who are well prepared are more likely to have that happen. Those that can’t keep up will be left in the dust.

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