Aug. 3—With three months left to make a final a decision, a state official overseeing the review of a proposed 1,900-acre solar facility in Conquest is scheduled to tour the area this week.
Gregg Sayre, an administrative law judge, will join officials from developer Next Era Energy, the town of Conquest and a concerned citizens group on Thursday to see the proposed site for the 200-megawatt solar power generating facility.
Sayre is one of three administrative law judges who are coordinating the project application review for the state Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment, which has the final say on whether the project can be built.
Stops on the tour were proposed by the company, the town and the Rural Preservation and Net Conservation Benefit Coalition, which is a group of local residents opposing the project.
The siting board has a Nov. 1 deadline to make its final decision.
The NextEra project, called Garnet Energy Center, would be among the largest solar farms in the state. In addition to installing hundreds of acres of solar arrays, NextEra would construct access roads, electric collection lines, a collection substation and electrical interconnection facilities, including a 345 kilovolt (kV) switchyard connecting its generated power to the nearby New York Power Authority Clay to Pannell transmission line.
The scheduled tour of the site comes after local officials raised concerns that state officials might not see the area in person before the siting board made a final decision.
Cayuga County Legislature Chairman David Gould wrote to the siting board in June to request an in-person visit by the administrative law judges. He sent the letter after a May 6 siting board evidentiary hearing in which one of the judge's indicated that they may not visit due to busy schedules.
"While Cayuga County maintains its neutral position on the outcome of the case, a decision by the judges absent a site visit would be deeply concerning given the magnitude of the land use change proposed in the application," Gould wrote, noting the project area takes up about 10% of the entire town.
"This scale of development has never been seen in Conquest before and its impacts will change a significant portion of the Town's landscape for a generation or more," he wrote.
The administrative law judges will make a recommendation to the siting board, which is supposed to have seven members. Five members are state officials or their designees: the chair of the Department of Public Service, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, the commissioner of the Department of Health, the chair of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Commissioner of Economic Development.
The other two slots are reserved for residents in the municipality where the project is located and are referred to as the board's "ad hoc" members. Under the law, the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader are supposed to each make an appointment from the list of nominees submitted, but if they fail to do this within 30 days, the responsibility goes to the governor. If the governor does not take action within 15 days, then the siting board can move forward with its work without any local representatives on board.
After outcry from state and local officials late last year about the failure to have any ad hoc appointments established for the Conquest project, the Senate appointment was made in January when resident Ed Cook was accepted for one of the slots. The other slot has not been filled.
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