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Source: Albany Times-Union

Pine Barrens bill threatens renewable energy goals

BY GERALD ROSENGARTEN, COMMENTARY

Posted: December 15, 2017
Originally Published: December 14, 2017

New York state has been at the forefront of a low-carbon energy future, a laudable goal important for all New Yorkers concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

In June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stood with several other state leaders to announce the formation of the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement in the age of President Donald Trump. The governor also announced that New York is leading the nation in advancing clean energy projects to support his goal of achieving half of all electricity from renewables by 2030.

I see great hope in the many initiatives the governor is undertaking. New Yorkers deserve a cleaner, more resilient and affordable energy.

However, the Pine Barrens Expansion bill, which is now on the governor's desk, threatens to derail his renewable energy goals and our state's ability to fight climate change in the face of adversity in the White House. This bill, which significantly expands the conservation area set by law in 1990, takes aim at two solar farms, including the fully approved 19.6 megawatt Middle Island Solar Farm.

I proposed a solar farm for this site, which my partners and I have owned for 30 years, because as an environmentalist I felt a deep obligation to fight global warming any way I could. I convinced my partners not to clear the entire site of trees, pour concrete and build a light manufacturing facility as the L1 industrial zoning permits as-of-right. Inspired by solar farms in Europe, we spent years studying the feasibility of developing solar on the site. The proposed site elegantly balances solar energy production with land preservation, with 40 percent of our site being preserved as forested land.

The state's leading environmental organizations, including the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance for Clean Energy and Citizens Campaign for the Environment have strongly supported our project and vehemently oppose this bill.

In addition, the Business Council of New York State strongly opposes this bill, because of the unprecedented land-taking and chilling effect it will have on responsible development. The state's Pine Barrens credit system was not intended to address very large private parcels and will not be sufficient to compensate property owners. As always, taxpayers would foot the bill.

We've spent five years and more than $6 million on designing a responsible project that met all the State Environmental Quality Review requirements, obtaining all necessary power purchase agreements and withstanding multiple delays. Then, we had the rug pulled out from under us in the 11th hour by a rushed back door political maneuver that has little to do with conservation and everything to do with "not in my backyard" activism. What developer of renewable energy would invest a dime in New York state when rigorous municipal regulatory processes are undermined in this way?

Cuomo has put forward a bold renewable energy plan. We are heeding those calls, but now it's up to the governor to protect the interest of all New Yorkers — present and future generations. We urge the governor to veto this anti-environmental bill and clear the path for responsible solar development and to take bold steps to fight climate change.


Gerald Rosengarten is the managing partner of Middle Island Solar Farm.