State, not towns, to have final say on major solar project

WWNY State, not towns, to have final say on major solar project

TOWN OF WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - It’s a solar project sprawling 2,000 acres and, historically, local governments have had a say when it comes to where and if projects like it will be built. But, a new process is changing the way these projects are approved.

By 2030, Governor Cuomo hopes to have 70 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources like solar.

One of the areas to see a major solar project is right here in the north country.

At 120 megawatts, it will be one of the state’s largest - spanning 2,000 acres between the towns of Watertown and Hounsfield. It’s expected to be up and running by 2033.

Watertown Town Supervisor Joel Bartlett is all for solar energy, but still, it caught him by surprise.

“I wasn’t aware that it was going to be encompassing an area that is such a residential area. That’s something we’ll have to work through,” he said.

To fast-track his goal, Cuomo set up a new board called the Office of Renewable Energy Siting, the board that determines whether projects like these go through.

“The state oversight board of the governor put in place, they’re going to have the final say if it’s located here or not. All we can do is try to play catch-up a little bit and put something to help both the developer, the property owner, and the neighboring residential owners,” said Barteltt.

It’s part of a new approval process called 94-C. According to the state, that means the project doesn’t have to be approved by town officials as long as they’ve been given notice.

That’s different from Article 10, another approval process, which allows community representatives to participate in all phases of the project.

Boralex representative Darren Suarez says that may be a difference, but it doesn’t change to company’s involvement with the community. Boralex does have to prove its engaged with the community before submitting an application.

“There’s concern about the impact of a project and what it means. Our intention really is to be a good neighbor and be fully part of that community,” said Suarez.

Bartlett says the town has been involved in 7 public hearings and is able to help make changes to the application before it’s passed along to the state.

But overall, he has one priority.

“Our biggest goal is to come to a happy medium somewhere,” he said.

Suarez says the project is still in its pre-application stage. He says Boralex hopes to submit the application for the project in March.

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