Developer Holds Public Meeting
By DAN SULLIVAN
Last Tuesday, May 9, solar developer EDF (Electricite de France) Renewables hosted one of the meetings the company is required to hold under the rules established by the State Office of Renewable Energy Siting, known as ORES. Public outreach is a necessary component for developers who hope to build large, utility-scale projects in New York. The framework for these projects is laid out in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a 2019 executive law passed under the Cuomo administration. Section 94-c of this law allows developers to request exemption from local land-use laws if the developer can prove these local laws to be “overly burdensome” to the effort to meet the state’s Climate Action goals. EDF’s ambitious 2,000 acre-plus project far exceeds the Town of Columbia’s law; thus, the company plans to apply through ORES, having secured leases with several landowners in the town.
The meeting was a carefully orchestrated affair. The first hour was a kind of meet and greet, with snacks available, and EDF personnel present to interact with residents, of whom nearly 100 showed up. The second hour consisted of a PowerPoint presentation highlighting aspects of the project. Much was made of the investment that EDF was making in the community in the form of scholarships and donations. The third hour was devoted to a question and answer session. All questions had to be submitted on index cards beforehand; the company then answered selected questions.
The format of the meeting drew reactions from residents who attended. Several stated that their questions were not answered, leading many to conclude that EDF chose only to answer the “easy” ones. Several residents engaged the EDF personnel in the first hour of the meeting, questioning the feasibility of the project, the concerns about water quality and wetland protection, and impacts on the local wildlife. Many attendees reported receiving conflicting answers from different employees. It is important to note that, in a town-wide survey conducted recently, 78 percent of town residents oppose the project outright. A local election is coming in November, and there are reportedly many anti-project candidates slated to be on the ballot.
This scenario is playing out across the state, but Columbia is located just north of Otsego in southern Herkimer County. Organizations such as Otsego 2000 and the Otsego County Conservation Association are watching closely. While all agree carbon emissions must be reduced, there are many who argue that foisting huge projects on upstate communities may not be the best way to meet the state’s energy goals.