While at Fort Drum this week talking about biomass fuel, Governor Andrew Cuomo chimed in on another energy issue – one much more likely to strike nerves in the North Country: the state's new Article X law.
The Article X law creates a streamlined, statewide process for locating power plants, including wind farms. Companies can opt for local review of power projects or can apply for review by the state Article X board, which allows for input but not ultimate decision-making authority from local communities that could host projects.
Cuomo said the law is all about striking a balance when it comes to new power facilities.
"You need to site power plants, energy plants, if you want to fuel an economy, pardon the pun," he said. "And the Article X law, I believe, is an intelligent balance between local input, but still a process that can be done, and can be done expeditiously."
The law is a sore subject for some communities that have struggled at length with drafting their own rules governing commercial wind turbines. That includes the Jefferson County town of Cape Vincent. Some officials there said the law overrides the principle of home rule, of communities charting their own course and determining their own destinies with such major projects.
The town of Cape Vincent just passed a strict new zoning law governing wind development. And it did so with one eye firmly on Article X standards, which say the board can only overrule local review based on “unreasonableness” of local laws governing power projects.
Bob Brown chaired the town’s zoning law rewrite committee.
"As long as the Article X board recognizes it was done for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens, then they will not override the law," Brown said. "And that's what our intent was – to write a law that would not prohibit, but would discourage, and that would not be overthrown by Article X."
The governor said home rule isn't the only value at stake in the debate.
"I think home rule, what we call home rule, is very important – where a locality decides their destiny," Cuomo said. "There also has to be a reasonableness, because we have to remember at the end of the day, we need power. We need power."
Cuomo emphasized the importance of power projects to a healthy state economy.
"You can't say no to wind, and no to solar and no to biomass and no to power plants and then say, 'I want jobs and a thriving economy.' That's the balance we have to reach," he said.
Cape Vincent and potential wind power developer BP are jockeying for control. As the new strict zoning law was being developed, Cape Vincent’s Brown said, the town learned that BP intends to try to override the local rules by appealing to the new Article X process instead.
"They sent a letter that we were made aware of – they sent no copy to Cape Vincent – to the Article X board, saying that they intended to pursue it through Article X," Brown said.
The Cape Vincent Town Council recommended the planning board throw out a partial application for a wind farm from BP. There had been no activity on the application for over a year.