ALBANY – Solar and wind energy developers took a preliminary victory lap Thursday in light of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plans to greatly simplify and speed up the process by which these new power plants are sited and approved.
“This is a process that needed to be turned around,” Jennifer Maglienti, an attorney in the Cuomo Administration, told developers at a meeting sponsored by the Alliance for Clean Energy which represents wind and solar interests. She was referring to initiatives that Cuomo has proposed in the pending state budget plan which would create a special office for renewable energy as well as a speedier timetable for approving such projects.
The lead for approvals would go from the Department of Public Service to Empire State Development, the state’s main economic development arm. Another agency, the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, will also play a bigger role in getting some of the projects approved and would be able to help identify potential sites.
Additionally, the changes envision a one-year review process. That would likely mean that new wind and solar plants could go from drawing board to power generation in three to four years, compared to the decade-long timetable that currently exists, said Anne Reynolds, executive director at the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, which represents developers.
The changes are outlined in the governor’s 30-day amendments, or changes he wants in his 2020-21 state budget proposal. Those changes need approval by the Legislature. The budget is due on April 1.
A number of large solar and wind projects are proposed upstate, where there is available land and proximity to power lines that would bring much of the electricity to New York City.
“There’s a great thirsty need for clean energy in New York City,” said Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters.
She noted that the plan also envisions a “mitigation bank,” which could offset the impacts on wildlife when new projects are built.
The Cuomo proposal is a response to worries about how the state power system will meet the requirements of the new Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which was passed and signed into law last year. The landmark bill calls for 85 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.
Many in the renewable energy field said the rules and system for approving new power plants, governed by the state’s Article 10 siting laws, were too slow and cumbersome.
Still, there are worries, primarily about the way decision making power will be concentrated at the state rather than local level, according to some.
Putting ESD and NYSERDA in charge means the state will “eviscerate home rule,” said Gary Abraham, a lawyer in the western New York’s Cattaraugus County.
His county as well as five municipalities are fighting plans by the Chicago-based Invenergy Co. to build 116 wind turbines, up to 600 feet tall, in the area.
Local voters in the towns of Freedom and Farmersville elected new town board members on an anti-turbine platform. But with the state enjoying a bigger role in siting projects, that vote may be for naught, Abraham said.
Some state legislators also expressed concern about local control. “Home rule should be respected and projects shouldn’t be sited without local support and approval,” Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, a Watertown Republican, said in a press release.
Still the changes, or promise of changes, combined with the push for renewables is bringing in lots of developers. Reynolds noted that 67 wind or solar proposals already have agreements through NYSERDA for renewable energy credits, or subsidies, for carbon-free generation.
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