Cuomo Seeks Stronger State Control Over Permits
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to greatly increase the state’s authority in the authorization process of environmentally friendly power generation at the expense of local input into projects.
One of the questions that has dogged the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act since its passage last year has been how the state will meet its renewable energy goals given the cost of renewable energy when compared to natural gas and also the opposition in many rural areas to wind energy. The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act, unveiled last week in a 30-day budget amendment and now included in the governor’s 2020-21 budget proposal, is Cuomo’s answer to those questions. Cuomo proposes consolidating the environmental review and permitting of major renewable energy facilities in New York state into a new office of Renewable Energy Siting, as opposed to the state Public Service Commission, that will be able to set uniform standards for siting, design, construction and operation of renewable energy facilities in consultation with NYSERDA, the state DEC, Public Service Department, Department of Agriculture and Markets and other relevant state agencies and authorities.
“Climate change is the existential challenge of our time, and New York state has risen to the occasion by enacting the strongest laws in the nation to protect and preserve our environment,” Cuomo said.
“This legislation will help achieve a more sustainable future, invigorating the green economy and reaffirming New York’s position as a market leader with a revamped process for building and delivering renewable energy projects faster.”
WHAT DOES ARTICLE 10 DO?
Article 10 of the state Public Service Law provides guidance for the siting of major electric generating facilities with capacity of 25 megawatts or more each year. The law requires public involvement programs at least 150 days before a developer submits preliminary scoping statements and official applications to the state Siting Board. Then, Article 10 requires a preliminary scoping statement informing the Siting Board, other public agencies and the community about the project, including a description of the proposed facility, potential environmental and health impacts, proposed studies to evaluate those impacts, proposed mitigation measures and reasonable alternatives to the project. Once that is done, developers must then submit a formal Article 10 application to the Siting Board, which includes the same information as the preliminary scoping statement but in greater detail. Finally, the Siting Board must make its final decision about whether to issue or deny the certificate within 12 months of the date that a developer’s application is deemed complete.
“The governor’s 30-day amendment to accelerate renewable energy projects is a maneuver designed to bypass Article 10, which established a siting process for these projects that, appropriately, included local input,” said state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay. “Now, in order to advance an extreme environmental agenda, he is proposing to eliminate home rule in order to force these renewable energy projects on communities. This is bypassing local zoning and crushing any opposition. In order to meet his environmental targets, these projects will need to be constructed on a massive scale and with a density that will literally change the face of upstate New York, transforming it into a barren industrial wasteland. Countless acres of farmland will need to be blanketed with solar farms. Our beautiful shorelines will be marred by the sight of massive mechanical wind turbines towering over the water.”
THE GOVERNOR’S CHANGES
Cuomo proposes replacing Article 10 with a new process under Article 23 of the state Economic Development Law. It would reduce the megawatt threshold of projects that may seek a permit at the state level, as opposed to through local zoning and a State Environmental Quality Review Act process, from 25 megawatts to 10 megawatts. The governor’s proposal also directs the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority to develop sites to construct renewable energy sites that would include site control and agreements with the power grid and local tax entities. Municipalities and local industrial development agencies would have to consult with NYSERDA in setting payment in lieu of taxes agreements while the state would create what the governor terms a “more uniform real property value assessment methodology” for solar and wind projects.
The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act also authorizes a power grid study and investment plans for distribution and transmission infrastructure needed to meet the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act’s goals and amends Article 7 of the state Public Service Law to allow for expedited regulatory review of major transmission utility projects.
Tucked into the law are clauses that any projects — including proposed solar farms in Westfield and Ripley that are currently part of the Article 10 siting process– not approved within one year are automatically approved, that public comments deemed “general opposition” will carry no weight in the state’s new decision-making process; and that any developers with projects currently in the Article 10 process can choose the new, expedited process.
“The impacts of these projects will be felt most significantly by the people who live in these communities,” Borrello said. “Yet, with this move, the governor is attempting to silence their voices to expedite his political agenda. It is a concept that is becoming all too familiar in New York: force through a major change without allowing those most affected to provide input. I will not allow the governor and his radical supporters to destroy our beautiful landscape, quality of life and economy by pursuing a false agenda that will do nothing to truly address climate change. This is not effective leadership; New Yorkers deserve better.”