A Partial Observer
The Town of Columbia is being pitched a 350 megawatt solar and 20 MW battery storage project by French owned, and San Diego based EDF Renewables. The project outreach to local landowners began quietly in 2019 and will require approximately 2,200 usable, contiguous acres—equal to 10 percent of the land in the Town of Columbia, which is known to have some of the most fertile farmland in the state.
The flood of large solar projects around New York State popping up over the last few years is fueled by the state’s aggressive goal of using 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. In 2019, the state passed and signed into law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which led to the creation of the Office of Renewable Energy Siting and, through executive law, the 94-c process, in efforts to speed up and ease the permitting process that project developers had long sought.
The new siting process allows ORES to issue the permits. This overrides the state’s long standing Home Rule Law, which historically has provided local towns the ability to regulate and handle the permitting process themselves. The Columbia Solar Project, as proposed, is in violation of the Town of Columbia’s local laws and imposes on its comprehensive plan.
Over the past several months, a concerned citizen’s group, Protect Columbia, has sprung up in opposition to the solar project for a variety of reasons. More than 400 lawn signs have been displayed throughout town as concerns about and sentiments against the solar project continue to grow.
While we are not against solar panels per say, many of us are concerned that a project of this size will take prime tillable and pasturable farmland off the table at a time where food production is becoming more challenging than ever.
There are serious health and safety concerns, along with negative visual impacts it would have on the town, as well as concerns about the threat that it would bring to our environment, such as to the soil, our drinking water, wildlife, and the ecosystem in general. All things considered, we think the negative issues related to a solar and battery storage project of this size and scale far outweigh the positives.
There is on-going litigation in the New York State Supreme Court pertaining to solar projects similar to the Columbia Solar Project, focused on the 94-c siting process and environmental concerns that have been brought up by municipalities and local civic groups. This leads one to believe that the 94-c siting process in general, its relation to Home Rule Law, and other aspects will likely be challenged in court in the years to come. There are also bills in the New York State Senate that are being discussed which would change or eliminate the siting process, given it silences local voices and town laws. As of this date, EDF Renewables has not applied to ORES for the permit it would need to be approved in order to move ahead with the Columbia Solar Project.
Nathan Seamon is a resident of the Town of Columbia and a Protect Columbia member.