By TIM ROWLAND
The Adirondack Park Agency has shelved plans for an update to its renewable energy guidelines after determining that its existing provisions are adequate, at least for the time being.
The agency said it would continue to support green energy and would evaluate projects based on existing rules.
In an emailed statement, the APA said, “The Agency determined that the policy updates were not needed to meet our goal to integrate the wise use of renewable energy resources and implementation of energy conservation measures to help contribute to the reduction of global atmospheric carbon levels and climate change.”
But the issue seemed to have taken on greater urgency last fall, when APA staff advised commissioners that new state energy targets would likely increase the number of solar and wind projects planned for the Adirondacks. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 Clean Energy Jobs and Climate Agenda called for generating half of the state’s electricity needs from renewable energy sources by 2030. The Cuomo administration has since upped the ante by calling for carbon-free energy production by 2040.
Either would be a heavy lift. Less than a third of New York’s energy is produced by renewables, and even that, said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, is primarily hydropower “that’s been around since the days of (New York public works maven) Robert Moses.” Moses has been dead for 38 years.
Wind and solar power are growing, but together still account for less than 5 percent of New York’s electricity. Some believed the state’s need to grow its renewables and the APA’s proposed policy update were related, and that the state was trying to fast-track projects without public consultation.
The group Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation called for a moratorium on wind and solar projects and, on its website, said “the APA has quietly made a move toward embracing industrial wind and solar development inside the Blue Line.” It urged residents to comment on the APA’s new guidelines which, it said, had the potential “to scar the Adirondacks forever.”
In a news release announcing the proposed policy’s public comment period the APA said, “The purpose of the policy is to provide guidance for the review and approval of renewable energy projects inside the Adirondack Park with regards to the Adirondack Park Agency Act, the Freshwater Wetlands Act and the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act. The policy is envisioned to advance renewable energy sources, promote energy conservation efforts and expand public awareness to mitigate the negative effects of fossil fuels and climate change. Wise use of energy resources and the integration of renewable energy resources offers opportunities at a state and Park level to reduce global atmospheric carbon levels and slow climate change.”
The policy also said the APA would consider ways to advance renewables as part of its routine planning, review and education processes, and work to use renewable energy in its own operations. But it also called for renewables to work in harmony with the park’s aesthetic, ecological and historic interests.
The APA’s public comment period ended in early December, but at that time the agency delayed further action on the policy update, saying—based on accumulated comments—the public was assuming things about the guidelines that weren’t so. This delay, said one commissioner, is now indefinite.
In its statement, the APA said that “any proposed renewable energy projects will be reviewed by staff in conformance with the Adirondack Park Agency Act, our thirty-seven development considerations and other review criteria, the New York State Freshwater Wetlands Act and the New York State Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.”
According to documents received through a Freedom of Information Law request, at least five companies—Cypress Creek Renewables, Borrego Solar, Lodestar Energy, Omni-Navitas and East Light Partners—are looking at multiple potential solar sites within the park. Most are less than 50 acres and are primarily located in the Champlain Valley towns of Ticonderoga, Putnam, Moriah and Westport.
Along with the APA approval, the towns must approve the projects—a circumstance that can create its own challenges. A proposed wind farm in Hopkinton and solar farms in Ticonderoga have run into resident concerns.
In Ticonderoga, Supervisor Joe Giordano said the town has been hearing it from both sides—some members of the community worry about solar farms interfering with the view, as well as what will happen to the panels when they have outlived their usefulness. On the other hand, property owners who are making deals with solar companies are pushing the town to adopt a zoning plan that includes solar farms so they can get on with their projects.
Ticonderoga is popular among solar companies because of its proximity to big transmission lines and because the ground—much of it former farmland—is flat and open. But aside from citizen concerns, when the town went to draw up an ordinance governing solar projects it discovered conflicts between old zoning and planning laws (including even the definition of “agricultural” land) that must be ironed out before the solar law can move forward.
Meanwhile, in an email to the APA, a representative for Borrego said its plans for Ticonderoga had been suspended until the town passes a solar zoning ordinance. The correspondence between solar companies shows other areas where the process may need to be smoothed before solar energy gets off the ground in the park. One company said it was confused whether town approval was contingent on APA approval, or vice versa.
Outside of some fringe areas of the park, Bauer said the Adirondacks do not have a suitable wind profile for industrial-scale windmills. But there may be good opportunities for solar. “There are real opportunities on fallow farms that have not grown up yet,” he said.