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Renewable Energy Gets Major Boost in New York State Budget

April 5, 2020


Thanks to the leadership of Governor Cuomo and lawmakers—even in the midst of the ongoing health crisis—renewable energy is getting a critical boost as part of New York State’s Fiscal Year ‘21 Budget. The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth & Community Benefit Act will streamline the processes for building renewable energy projects across the state and ensure clean power is efficiently transported wherever it needs to go. NRDC, along with a broad coalition of labor, environmental and business groups, actively supported passage of the Act.

The legislation will also help New York achieve its nation-leading goal of 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030, as required by the recently adopted landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), while maintaining the state’s strong environmental and public participation standards.  At the same time, it will help bolster New York’s clean energy economy and the countless jobs that come with it — with more than 60 wind and solar projects that are ripe for construction after having undergone environmental review and permitting.

Background

As I have written before, achieving 70 percent renewable energy in the power sector by 2030 will require an “all hands on deck” approach if we’re going to get there. The state currently gets about 28 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, with a significant portion of that generated by large hydropower facilities owned and operated by the New York Power Authority (NYPA). Scaling up renewables to hit 70 percent in 10 years will require that renewable energy projects are sited quickly, and that there is enough transmission to transport this power to where it is needed. Until now, these processes have been overly cumbersome to navigate, thereby jeopardizing the state’s chances of meeting its ambitious target.

The existing siting process, known as Article 10, establishes a procedure for approving energy production facilities over 25 megawatts (MW). However, it has not worked well for renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Major delays within the Article 10 process have resulted in a massive bottleneck — jeopardizing over 8,000 gigawatt-hours per year of land-based wind and solar projects pending before the state’s Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (known as the “Siting Board”), which considers these applications. Although the Article 10 process should only take about 24 months, the six projects that have made it through the process have taken significantly longer (and none are yet in operation) – and most projects are either still waiting for approval or have been withdrawn.

The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth & Community Benefit Act Explained

The Act contains three major provisions—a new, dedicated office and streamlined process for siting renewable energy projects over 25 MW, a program to identify “build ready” sites that are solid candidates for renewable energy projects, and a program to accelerate the development of necessary transmission and distribution upgrades. Each of these is explained in more detail below:

  • Office of Renewable Energy Permitting
    • Renewable energy projects greater than 25 MW will be able to go through a streamlined permitting process that will last no longer than one year from application to approval; projects on certain disturbed or industrial sites will be able to complete the process in 6 months (which is great! We need to repurpose the state’s countless brownfield sites with clean energy); current projects going through the Article 10 process and those greater than 20 MW can opt-in to the new process.
    • The Office will establish general permit standards for siting design, construction and operation through rulemaking that all projects have to meet as well as site-specific conditions; the standards will be designed to avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts.
    • Projects must adhere to all local laws unless the laws are found to be unreasonably burdensome.
    • Local communities and other groups and individuals will be able to intervene in the process and funds will be made available for this purpose.
    • Fees for off-site mitigation will be imposed if environmental impacts are not completely addressed by uniform and site-specific permit conditions.
  • Clean Energy Resources Development and Incentives Program
    • The NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will work with the Empire State Development Corp., the Department of Environmental Conservation and other agencies to identify “build ready” sites that are good candidates for renewable projects and will open these sites up for developers to bid on.
    • Once these sites are fully permitted and developed, NYSERDA will competitively auction them to private developers to construct and operate renewable energy projects at these sites.
  • Transmission Investment Program
    • The Department of Public Service (DPS) will conduct a comprehensive power grid study to identify cost-effective distribution, local and bulk electric system upgrades that will facilitate reaching the goals of the CLCPA.
    • DPS will direct the establishment of a distribution and local transmission system capital program based on the results of the study, with associated milestones and reviews, for each utility service territory where local upgrades are deemed necessary to meet the goals of the CLCPA. The transmission plan will be submitted to the New York Independent System Operator (the entity that operates the state’s bulk electric grid) to be incorporated into its studies and plans.
    • DPS will create an accelerated transmission investment program to speed development of transmission through existing processes and authorize NYPA to build these lines by itself or in partnership with others.
    • The PSC will establish a nine-month expedited process for considering transmission upgrades constructed within existing rights of way or would not result in any significant adverse environmental impacts (thereby minimizing greenfield builds).

Along with a statutory ban on fracking, a ban on polystyrene foam containers, and the passage of a nation-leading environmental bond act, these much-needed reforms to renewable energy siting and transmission in this year’s budget delivers a major boost to New York’s clean energy economy and its vast job creating potential. These siting reforms are also critical to ensuring that the state achieves 70 percent clean energy by 2030 and the CLCPA’s greenhouse gas reduction targets—collectively, they represent a game changing step forward for New York’s already impressive clean energy and climate portfolio. And as a result, the future of renewable energy in the Empire State is looking that much brighter.

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