Controversial Horseshoe Solar Moves Forward
In a ruling that has repercussions throughout the Western New York Region, a State-based board has usurped local authority from the Towns of Rush and Caledonia by rejecting their desire to reject the application of a private firm to build a solar farm in their municipalities.
According to the Rush Democrats website, the Horseshoe Solar Project is a “critical threat to Rush’s quality of life that is posed by a massive industrial installation of solar panels in West Rush and the bordering area of Caledonia is being valiantly fought by the citizens’ group Residents United to Save our Hometown (RUSH).”
Invenergy, developer of the Horseshoe Solar Project, says through its website, “In the first 20 years of project operation, Horseshoe Solar is projected to pay millions of dollars in property taxes, lease payments to landowners, salaries to employees, and payments for local goods and services, resulting in a significant increase in economic activity in Livingston County. Benefits to schools, town, and county governments will be realized from annual payments made under a payment-in-lieu-of-tax (PILOT) agreement.”
Representatives of the Seneca tribe, in an article published by FingerLakes1.com last year, claimed “The Horseshoe Solar project threatens to destroy a sacred landscape rich with Seneca, Haudenosaunee, and American history.”
The Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) issued a draft permit in February of this year. As part of its virtual public comment hearing (held on Tuesday, April 26, 2022), several groups and individuals asked ORES to reject the Invenergy proposal. The Town of Caledonia (Caledonia); the Town of Rush and Residents United to Save Our Hometown (RUSH), jointly; and Robin Rapport, timely filed petitions for full party status asking ORES to reject the petition.
On June 13, ORES Administrative Law Judges Michael S. Caruso and Gregg C. Sayre ruled on ORES DMM Matter Number 21-02480. They stated, “the Towns’ arguments that the transfer application materials fail to justify the limited waivers granted by ORES are without merit.” The judges similarly ruled against the RUSH and Rapport complaints.
Ordinarily, municipal entities such as cities, towns, villages, and counties have priority jurisdiction over how their land can be used. This is accomplished primarily through zoning laws and is commonly referred to as “Home Rule Authority.”
“I will tell you that the Citing Board under Governor Cuomo eliminated the local people,” says Mike Falk, Lima Supervisor. “It used to have two local representatives that had to be part of each project decision. They were then eliminated in favor of all of Albany sort of folks that were appointed. We lost our voices then and this is the kind of thing that happens.”
“The Office of Renewable Energy Siting Board is made up of judges and people from the State Energy Authority,” says Gerry Kusse, Supervisor of Rush. “Governor Cuomo had this plan that I think was partly promoted by his desire to seek a higher office in the future. We all know what happened to Governor Cuomo but some of us had the foolish thought that maybe when Governor Hochul took over, she would soften the aggressiveness of that project. But she hasn’t. She’s just promoted it and continues to usurp Home Rule Authority – the Town’s part – and continues to forge ahead with just saying we’re going to put in all this material in your Town and we don’t care what you think about it. It’s very frustrating.”
Kusse has very good reasons to be discouraged. He has honestly tried to see how the project can continue in a way compatible with the needs of his town.
“One of the things that really frustrates me is two years ago, when we had one of the managers from Invenergy, the corporation that is seeking a permit for the Horseshoe Project, I asked that manager in a public forum why couldn’t they just move a quarter mile away and put this project this horseshoe project on State property,” Says Kusse. “It would not impact one single house. It would not impact anything. The response that I got from her right in a public meeting was, ‘We don’t want to do that. The State is too difficult to deal with when it comes to a permitting process.’ I came close to saying some expletive deleted, but, thank goodness, I didn’t. But that was her answer, and we continue to voice our questions and it just falls on deaf ears.”
None of the entities opposing Horseshoe Solar has given up. Caledonia, Rush, and Residents United to Save our Hometown have all appealed the decision by ORES.
Kusse, for one, has vowed to bring in the big guns, if possible.
“We have reached out to everyone, local Assembly, local Senate. We’re going to a party with Congressman Joe Morelli and I plan to nibble on his ear about this. I don’t know if a Congressman can do anything about it, but he certainly is going to know what I feel about the what it really is dissolving of Home Rule Authority when it comes to a large industrial solar complex.”
More as the story develops.