Improved Siting Process for Renewable Energy Projects
Earlier this April, the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act (the Act) was adopted as part of the New York State 2020 budget. The inclusion of the renewable energy siting and transmission reform in the state budget provides for an improved siting process for renewable energy projects that will help New York achieve 70% renewable electricity by 2030, as required by New York’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), while maintaining New York’s environmental and public participation standards. It could also provide a much-needed stimulus after the economic slow-down caused by COVID-19.
The Act establishes an Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) at the NYS Department of State; lays out a sensible, stepwise permitting process; and directs the new office to establish standard operating conditions for wind and solar projects. It also has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes for developers to build renewables, while ensuring a rigorous environmental review process and creating green jobs across the state. Indeed, the new siting rules will ensure that renewable projects larger than 25 megawatts (MW) can receive approval within a year, in contrast to the previous siting process that could take several years or more. The 2020 State budget also provides funding for up to 25 full-time ORES employees.
In addition, the Act, which will be codified as N.Y. Executive Law § 94-c:
- Creates a new New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) program to identify sites that can be made “build-ready” for renewable development, and then transfer the development rights to private developers
- Creates an Endangered Species Mitigation Bank Fund to support conservation projects
- Calls for developing a State Power Grid and Study Program to accelerate the planning and build-out of bulk and local transmission and distribution infrastructure
- Directs the Public Service Commission to establish a distribution and local transmission system capital program for each utility in need of local upgrades in their service territory
- Authorizes NYPA to pursue transmission projects that are deemed high priority
- Adds deadlines to the permitting process for transmission, which will include onshore transmission needed for offshore wind development
Local governments will have access to intervenor funds, and both they and the public will have the opportunity to participate in the process. All projects must follow local laws unless deemed ‘unreasonably burdensome,’ by the Siting Office in view of the CLCPA targets and the environmental benefits of the proposed major renewable energy facility, which is consistent with the current standard under the Article 10 siting process. It is also noteworthy that any final permit issued by the Siting Office must include host community benefits, which are intended to provide benefits to owners of land and communities where renewable facilities are located.
Importantly, the Act eliminates the need to obtain any other state or local approvals, meaning projects greater than 80 MW will no longer need to obtain a separate approval under Section 68 of the Public Service Law. In addition, projects that propose to connect to the electric grid via transmission lines less than 10 miles in length will also be included as part of the streamlined review process and will no longer need to go through the lengthy and costly Article VII approval process.
Unfortunately, the Act did not include uniform local property tax assessment methodologies. As such, the patchwork of property taxes and payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements remains. Renewable energy developers will need to continue to navigate New York’s local taxing and industrial development authorities to set project property tax levels through PILOTs.
Hopes for COVID-19 Recovery
Last year’s CLCPA requirements, including the mandate of 100% carbon neutrality in the electricity generating sector by 2040, set a high goal, and the Act provides a trajectory to reach those targets. Moreover, building wind and solar and investing in transmission can be part of our state’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery. The renewable siting reform package is a crucial piece of legislation to help New Yorkers recover from this unprecedented health and economic crisis. It will help jump start our economy by creating much-needed jobs and business opportunities, while allowing the transition to renewables to get up to speed. And it provides more certainty to developers in terms of the kinds of conditions they will have to meet, thereby making it easier and faster for these projects to navigate the process. In March, Governor Cuomo revealed details of 21 large-scale solar, wind and storage projects that will bring 1,278 MW of capacity to the upstate region alone. Hopefully, the Act will transform the current renewable siting landscape to timely deliver these projects and more. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.