Local governments are already under enormous stress in New York, between the crushing weight of unfunded mandates driving up property taxes, counties being forced to pay for a portion of Aid and Incentives for Municipalities funding and the Governor’s plan to shift increasing Medicaid costs upon them, there seems to be little respite for local taxpayers.

Now, in his latest salvo, Gov. Cuomo is angling to reduce local governments’ ability to regulate where new energy projects will be constructed. His constant push to consolidate control over every facet of the state is unwarranted and alarming.

Gov. Cuomo’s plan calls for the creation of an Office of Renewable Energy Permitting that would oversee the permit process for new solar and wind projects. He is also calling for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to work with the Department of Public Service and the Department of Environmental Conservation to develop potential locations for the new power generators. None of those entities have local representation; they are all state agencies under total control of the governor’s office.

The governor and his administration are all too eager to dictate what is best for local governments and communities. Some of the provisions he is advocating for include:

– Exempting major renewable energy projects from the standard Article X siting process; there is no provision for local representation on siting boards (in fact, there doesn’t appear to be any provision for siting boards at all);

– The only substantive input local communities retain is to submit a statement of whether a renewable project is in compliance with local laws/ordinances;

– Municipalities would be prohibited from requiring any sort of permit or approval at the municipal level for renewable energy projects; and

– Providing for a 60-day comment period for local communities to express concerns, but these concerns are restricted only to include possible legal issues, environmental issues, concerns about the possible reduction of land value and similar matters.

By virtually eliminating local government officials and community participation from the siting process, Gov. Cuomo is silencing the voices of those directly impacted by the projects. These complex decisions will have a substantial impact on businesses and homeowners and the overall well-being of communities. It is extremely disingenuous to act as if shutting out stakeholders is “streamlining” projects.

It is incumbent on the Legislature to take action now, and protect the interests of those we represent. Our local governments have more expertise and an ear to the ground in the communities they serve. They understand the landscape and the needs of residents better than anyone else. Their voices must be loudest as we move forward with these new projects.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at barclayw@nyassembly.gov or by calling (315) 598-5185.

— Will Barclay (R,C,I,Ref-Pulaski) is the New York State Assembly Minority Leader