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New York County Protests Using Farm Land for Solar Projects

State lawmakers and local elected officials have spoken out against using farm land in Schoharie County for solar farm projects. The state aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

New York state officials, local elected officials and residents are protesting the use of land for solar farms in Schoharie County that could otherwise be used as farm land.

Assemblyman Chris Tague, R- Schoharie, and state Sen. Peter Oberacker, R- Schenevus, held a press conference at Salisbury Farm in Sharon Springs on Thursday, across from the development of a solar farm. Tague said while he is not against renewable energy sources, he is against using potential farm land for solar farms.

"You know I was a dairy farmer, so you know I will always side with protecting your rights to do what you want with your land, but I'm here to warn you we've got real problems out there. We have bad actors running around this state, pockets full of government subsidies, pressuring farmers to sign bad contracts," Tague said.

According to state documents, the state approved the project in January 2021 and is owned by NextEra Energy Resources. The project is called the East Point Energy Center.

Salisbury Farm owner Stuart Salisbury said after the solar farm development began, his farm began to have a problem with water runoff. He said he had trouble getting anyone from the state or energy company to help him, which is when he reached out to Tague to help.

"Last year, solar panels began moving in. They're an eyesore. Nobody likes looking at them. We didn't ask for them and the town of Sharon didn't ask for them. I kept my mouth quiet for the most part until five, six weeks ago when we started getting runoff from the other side of the road onto this farm," Salisbury explained, adding Tague helped set up a meeting with state agency officials to address the problem. "They are going to address some of the situations, they fixed one culvert issue already, I will give them credit for that. We still have very limited use to our road [due to the project]."

State documents show a complaint was filed with the state Department of Public Service on Feb. 5.

In a statement, NextEra Energy Resources spokesperson Alexis Jones said the company is committed to meeting all appropriate requirements.

"Upon learning that a complaint was submitted, we immediately took action and have met the expectations of the complaint resolution process as set by the project's Article 10 State permit requirements," Jones wrote in a statement. "We believe in building strong relationships and supporting local communities. As the world's largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun, as well as a world leader in battery energy storage, we have a decades-long track record of operational excellence and environmental stewardship."

Sharon Springs Highway Supervisor Bill Barbic repeatedly criticized the state's use of the state's Article 10 law, which regulates the construction and operation of power facilities that have a capacity of 25 megawatts or more. The law supersedes local control in order to meet the state's energy goals.

The state's climate agenda aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 20230 and 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. The state's path to these goals is committing more than $40 billion in 64 large-scale renewable and transmission projects across the State. Concerns have also been raised about battery energy storage systems, which are needed to meet the state's goals, leading to several localities to pursue moratoriums.

"The safety and local laws, state laws and code enforcement that are jeopardized under Article 10 and the subpar contractors are cutting corners and changing plans for financial gain, knowing that there's no inspections or oversight to be taken care of," Barbic said. "The foxes watching the hen house. There's no oversight. They come in, they do what they want, they bury it when they leave and it's going to be our problem many, many years down the road."

Barbic said he has personally witnessed and is documenting alleged safety violations by the company.

"There's zero safety guidance here," Barbic said. "I've personally witnessed people in trees without harnesses. I've personally witnessed and have pictures of men down in holes with no trench boxes. Eight-foot hole in the ground with unstable soil all around, guys with families. It's just construction done by the lowest bidder with no one watching what they're doing."

In a statement, state Department of Public Service spokesman James Denn said the agency has been monitoring and enforcing compliance throughout the construction of the East Point Energy Center facility.

"Department staff takes seriously any landowner complaints. Department staff has investigated Mr. Sailsbury's complaints and is working with the developer to address those complaints as warranted," Denn said in a statement. "Department staff will continue to monitor construction of this facility and address any concerns that are brought to the Department's attention."

Barbic added the road on which the facility is located has been heavily damaged due to being unable to hold the weight of some of the construction vehicles and will now have to be repaired by the town.

Oberacker expressed his frustration with his Democratic colleagues in Albany on this and other issues.

"The thing that is really disheartening is we're seeing a chipping away at our local rights and our local ability to live the way that we want to live," the Republican said. "It isn't just this project. I mean, I was in the Senate [Wednesday] debating the bills on the new [congressional] maps and things that go with that. We have zero say. All Republicans voted in fashion and it still passed."

Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses.

Tague also criticized a proposal in Gov. Kathy Hochul's Executive Budget known as the Renewable Action Through Project Interconnection and Deployment (RAPID) Act, which would "create a one-stop-shop for the environmental review and permitting of major renewable energy and transmission facilities within the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), streamlining the siting of green infrastructure necessary to meet the State's climate goals."

"There is language in the budget that was proposed that removes your local rights or local government control to have any say when a transmission line or project such as a solar farm is sighted. Just like the majority's very radical and unattainable green energy laws, where they two years ago pushed you aside when sighting solar farms, they want to allow the state to force these projects where they see fit and the heck with you and your land rights and local government control," Tague said. "Friends, if I have to scream from now until April, like I did with the original solar farm sighting legislation from over two years ago, I will oppose this."

The state's budget is due April 1 of each year.

(c)2024 The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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