Last week, Governor Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have expanded Long Island’s Pine Barrens preserve. The expansion onto private lands was hastily proposed at the end of the legislative session last year and would have included plots where major solar farms were set to be constructed in Bethel and Shoreham. NYLCV was pleased with the Governor’s thoughtful veto message given how complicated the issue is, as well as its statewide implications for land preservation and meeting renewable energy goals. He cited the lack of public hearings and notification to the private landowners as reasons for vetoing the bill, while renewing his commitment to finding a compromise solution in 2018.
Back in August, NYLCV sent a letter to the Governor expressing concerns about the legislation. In the letter, we argued that preservation and renewable energy should not be pitted against each other. NYLCV often supports land preservation measures and is open to thoughtful expansion of the Pine Barrens. It sets a bad precedent, however, to allow opponents of renewable energy projects, regardless of the merits–or lack thereof–of their objections, to use New York’s proud history of preserving vulnerable lands to block projects that should rightfully be adjudicated through local land use processes. The bad faith invocation of land preservation could undermine the delicate and hard-won support that preservation efforts generally enjoy from a wide range of stakeholders in New York.
Reaching the goals of New York State’s Clean Energy Standard will require a vast increase in renewable energy projects across the state over the next decade. This goal must be balanced with preservation and other considerations but the two are not mutually exclusive. If this bill became law, not only would it have significantly decreased confidence within New York’s burgeoning renewable energy sector, the private land owners of these specific lands would have initiated litigation, setting off a protracted battle where all parties pay a significant price. Instead, we look forward to working with Governor Cuomo and all stakeholders on a compromise that will allow these tracts to be removed from the plan so 90 megawatts of renewable solar energy can be developed, while also adding 1,100 acres of land to the Pine Barrens.
As we site large-scale renewable projects around the state at an increasing pace, NYLCV strongly believes local concerns must be heard. Communities often raise valid concerns that can prevent a project from moving forward or lead to specific changes. There is room to develop and improve best-practices in this process and NYLCV looks forward to holding public forums around the state and partnering with municipalities and state agencies in this effort. Rather than use the State Legislature to circumvent the siting process in the future, we hope all stakeholders will join us to craft one that everyone can support and respect.