New York passes renewable energy legislation

In: Windfarms
New York State public authorities and agencies have announced the passage of legislation as part the FY 2020-2021 state budget to speed up the siting and construction of clean energy projects, in order to combat climate change and help jump start the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 health crisis.

The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act (the Act) will create an Office of Renewable Energy Siting (Siting Office) to improve and streamline the process for environmentally responsible and cost-effective siting of large-scale renewable energy projects across New York while delivering significant benefits to local communities.

Housed within the Department of State, the Siting Office will consolidate the environmental review of major renewable energy facilities and provide a single forum to ensure that siting decisions are predictable, responsible, and delivered in a timely manner along with opportunities for input from local communities.

The new office will establish regulations and uniform standards that encompass the environmental impacts common to large, renewable energy projects, and identify mitigation measures to address those impacts. It requires that uniform and site-specific standards and conditions must achieve a net conservation benefit to any impacted endangered and threatened species.

The Sitting Office's responsibilities includes authorising the Department of Environmental Conservation to use funds from projects permitted through the new siting office to implement an endangered and threatened species mitigation bank fund. The Siting Office will develop draft permits for public comment and local community input, and ensure that completed applications are acted upon within one year, except in the case of certain former commercial and industrial sites, which will be reviewed within six months.

To ensure that renewable energy development aims to maximise economic development and natural resource protection, the Act also creates a Clean Energy Resources Development and Incentives Program, which will be administered by NYSERDA. Through this programme, NYSERDA will work with its state partners and local communities to rapidly advance new "Build-Ready" projects, prioritising the development of existing or abandoned commercial sites, brownfields, landfills, former industrial sites, and abandoned or under-utilised sites.

NYSERDA, in consultation with the Department of Public Service, New York State Urban Development Corporation, and other agencies, will pursue site control and pre-construction development activities, including siting, resource feasibility assessments, design, planning and other appropriate activities necessary to establish build-ready sites.

Once sites are fully permitted and developed, NYSERDA will competitively auction the developed sites, bundled with contracts for renewable energy payments, to provide a fully de-risked package for private developers to construct and operate projects at these sites. NYSERDA has already begun collaborating with state agencies and other partners to identify an initial set of under-utilised sites that may be viable to host a renewable energy project with a shortlist of sites under consideration.

The Act is also aimed to boost the development of New York's grid by:
  • Directing the Department of Public Service, in consultation with NYSERDA, the New York Power Authority, the Long Island Power Authority, the state's grid operator and utilities, to conduct a comprehensive study to identify cost-effective distribution, local and bulk electric system upgrades and file the study with the Public Service Commission.
  • Directing the Public Service Commission to establish a distribution and local transmission system capital program, with associated milestones and reviews, for each utility in need of local upgrades in their service territory.
  • Developing a bulk transmission investment program, for the projects identified in the comprehensive study, that not only accelerates development through existing planning and development processes, but also relies upon and fully leverages the New York Power Authority's unique capability to expeditiously construct new transmission, by itself or in partnership with others.
  • Applying a streamlined siting process of no more than nine months from complete application for transmission infrastructure built within existing rights-of-way.

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