New York's recently passed 2020-2021 budget contains a significant overhaul to the siting process for large-scale renewable energy projects, including onshore wind and solar. The new guidance provides renewable energy developers with hope that an accelerated and more well-defined siting processes will remove a major project hurdle and jumpstart renewable energy development in the state.
Under Article 10 of the Public Service Law, first enacted in 2011, large-scale renewable energy projects have struggled to navigate an arduous, arbitrary and slow siting process envisioned for large fossil-fired generation assets. The current Article 10 siting law – which grants significant powers to intervenors, takes years to navigate and lacks a set of uniform standards – has acted to stymie renewable energy development. Only a handful of renewable energy projects have received final approval under existing law.
With New York having recently enacted an ambitious 70 percent by 2030 renewable energy target, the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act (the Act) aims to accelerate the siting process and provides much needed certainty for large-scale renewables.
The Act authorizes the creation of an Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), which will exclusively handle the siting of renewable energy facilities. While the Article 10 siting process will remain, ORES will supplant the role of the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting for renewable energy projects larger than 25 megawatts. For projects between 20 and 25 megawatts, renewable energy projects may opt-in to the new streamlined ORES process. Smaller renewable energy projects will continue to be permitted under the default State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and local zoning requirements.
The Act aims to expedite the siting process when compared with the Article 10 siting law and requires that the ORES issue siting decisions within one year or the project be automatically approved. The Act also seeks to provide additional certainty to renewable developers by requiring that the ORES create and promulgate a standardized set of regulations applicable to wind, solar and other clean energy technologies to address generalized environmental concerns. Pursuant to the Act, the ORES has a one-year deadline to establish the new rules.
These to-be-promulgated rules will be critical in the success of the new program, as they will seek to strike a balance between local concerns and environmental protection and needed renewable energy development. The ORES will establish general rules regarding site design, construction best practices and mitigation measures as well as develop site-specific conditions to respond to unique environmental conditions applicable to a project. As with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rules regarding local jurisdiction, the Act requires applicants to comply with local zoning rules unless local rules impose "unreasonably burdensome" restrictions. As with Article 10, public funding will be available to intervenors and local governments. However, ORES in consultation with other state departments shall retain the sole authority to approve a project.