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Setting the Record Straight on Carmel’s Proposed Battery Energy Storage System

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By Sen. Peter Harckham

It’s time to set the record straight on the 116-megawatt battery energy storage system proposed for a 93.5-acre parcel of land in Mahopac on the Carmel-Somers town line. The Union Energy Center project, which will be discussed at a June 19 public hearing of the Carmel Town Board, has caused residents considerable consternation.

Dozens and dozens of upset residents have contacted my district office to voice their concerns about this project and the feeling they were shut out of the process by Carmel officials. The persistent interjection of partisan politics into the situation, however, has added to the challenges that I have faced in addressing the real worries of homeowners while offering support to the municipalities involved.

Despite my repeated declarations of respect for the autonomy of the Town of Carmel’s Planning Board and its decision-making processes on local zoning, Republicans at all levels of government have sought to take partisan advantage of the issue and fabricated wildly outrageous claims and lies purporting to the contrary.

Here is the problem: The Town of Carmel has been without an updated comprehensive master plan for more than two decades. That makes the Carmel board responsible for this quagmire; for the board members to blame the COVID-19 pandemic on the lack of an updated master plan is disingenuous, at best. As it stands, the current Carmel master plan allows for the Planning Board to okay this project.

At a recent Carmel Town Board meeting, it was erroneously noted that the state had overruled local zoning for the placement of cell towers, and that Gov. Hochul would do the same for the battery energy storage project – even though there is no basis in law for her to do so. A Town Board resolution in opposition to the state’s oversight on where to place renewable energy facilities, like wind and solar farms, was a diversion, as it had no impact on a stand-alone energy storage system.

Meanwhile, Congressman Mike Lawler and Assemblyman Matt Slater poured gas on the fire by issuing a joint press release with my opponent declaring victory for home rule after my legislation enabling the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) to help communities with battery energy storage system proposals was pulled back, its enacting clause stricken, because the bill’s language was made invalid by the new state budget, which gives this responsibility now to the Public Service Commission.

Although my opponent has no clue on the subject, the two lawmakers should have known better, as they ignored the bill’s intent to help in situations exactly like this in Carmel, Somers, Putnam County, Westchester County and New York City (because of the reservoirs). The bill would seek input from neighboring municipalities, something the constituents from Somers say is missing from the process. No consideration was given in this press release as to why having the state’s professional and technical input could benefit the decision-making process.

Indeed, this project is a prime example for why a regional solution should at least be discussed; it simply gives a voice to neighboring residents. In this case, the homeowners in Somers have every reason to decry this particular process.

Also, it is important for state legislators to weigh in on a state process. As chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, I was instrumental in ensuring that a different energy project did not proceed because it would have impacted wetlands and prime farmland.

I communicated to the Carmel Planning Board in April that it should engage in a robust public engagement process regarding East Point Energy’s proposed Union Energy Center project, which has resulted in the upcoming public hearing. Additionally, I have publicly supported Carmel’s proposed moratorium on siting a battery energy storage system while it considers more comprehensive local regulations.

That’s trying to be helpful. Elected leaders don’t always have to agree on policies and certain issues, but we damn well better work together when it counts. Politicizing each and every issue possible continues to be a model of failure. The Carmel Town Board’s resolution about the state’s oversight on where to place renewable energy facilities, like wind and solar farms, struck me as both unhelpful and diversionary.

The Norwegian company behind the Union Energy Center and NYSERDA have done little to explain or educate what a battery storage system is, whether it is safe and what environmental impact it may have.

This is all the more reason for elected officials, municipal leaders and other stakeholders to work responsibly together and find a resolution to this challenging issue.

State Sen. Peter Harckham (D-Lewisboro) represents the 40th Senate District, which includes Somes and Carmel.

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