New York officials on Monday concluded two weeks of public hearings on draft regulations for the siting of renewable energy resources, with comments ranging from impassioned pleas to save the planet to skepticism that the state even cares what people think about its plans to speed up development of wind and solar.
The budget bill in April created the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) to help the state meet the ambitious clean energy goals outlined in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), especially the mandate for it to get 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. (See Cuomo Proposes Streamlining NY’s Renewable Siting.)
‘The reforms that Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo and the legislature agreed to last April in the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act couldn’t have been more timely or more necessary,’ said Joe Martens, director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance, testifying on behalf of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York. The state’s leaders ‘recognized immediately that the climate and renewable energy targets in the CLCPA simply could not be met if the permitting process for siting large-scale renewable energy projects took five to 10 years, and that’s how long it was taking under the former Article X process.’
The new siting law (in section 94-C) makes the expectations and conditions for permit approval clear and well known early in the process, Martens argued, and provides for local input to ensure that local requirements and conditions are factored in. It only allows local requirements to be overridden if they are ‘unreasonably burdensome.’
‘Despite claims to the contrary, eminent domain cannot be used to site a renewable energy facility.’
Blake Radtke, operations manager of EDP Renewables’ 78-MW Arkwright Summit Wind Farm in Fredonia, said that since coming online in 2018, the project has already paid $1 million to local landowners and more than $780,000 to local governments.
‘With that in mind, I would like to highlight a common theme I have been hearing from my site’s landowners over the last several months,’ Radtke said. ‘With so much uncertainty surrounding COVID and the resulting economic impacts many of them faced, the benefits and financial certainty provided by the wind farm for them has been a much needed counterbalance. … Renewable energy creates good-paying jobs for New Yorkers.’
State Sen. George Borrello (R) opposes the regulations because ‘New York state is trampling on our state constitution’s home-rule provisions and right of local self-governance.’ In casting aside these principles to remove obstacles to renewable energy projects, he said, the state is ignoring the wishes of residents to preserve the natural beauty of their region, ignoring studies, public hearings and zoning laws passed locally to limit the spread of such projects.
‘We’ve performed our due diligence; we’ve exercised our rights as outlined in Article X; … [and] the new regulations will strip us of those rights,’ Borrello said. ‘These rules are designed to fast-track renewable energy projects by removing localities and their vetting processes from decision-making.’
As an example of what can go wrong with fast-tracking such projects, Borrello mentioned the state having had four wind turbines installed along the State Thruway in Chautauqua and Erie counties in 2014.
‘These turbines went up relatively quickly, and after a few years, all four failed,’ Borrello said. ‘The French company that manufactured the turbines has since gone out of business. The installer and others involved claim no responsibility for the failure. The turbines still sit there, towering over the Thruway and useless, except as a reminder of the millions in wasted taxpayer dollars.’
‘There’s an inadequate review of the environmental impacts,’ said Ginger Schroder, a Cattaraugus County legislator and an attorney serving as counsel to three towns in the Alle-Catt Wind Farm case before the state Siting Board. (See NY Regulators Approve 340-MW Alle-Catt Wind Farm.)
‘The draft regulations don’t allow for meaningful identification, assessment or mitigation,’ Schroder said. ‘There’s improper reliance on secrecy to avoid public scrutiny, which has been the calling card of New York state to all renewable projects.’ She said the regulations fail to provide access to project details, applications, case documents or even docket lists.
‘While I applaud that you’re hosting all these public comments and sessions, I really do not believe, having had my experiences in the Article X process, that New York state really cares what anyone has to say about this, especially anyone who’s critical of the regulations or anyone who will stand in the way of the state’s very aggressive and unrealistic goals for large-scale renewable development.’
Audrey Friedrichsen, an environmental attorney speaking on behalf of Scenic Hudson, said her organization supports the goals of the CLCPA and the siting law, but the draft regulations could compromise watersheds and other vital habitats.
Friedrichsen encouraged ORES to develop a stringent standard for when developers will be allowed to get a waiver from the uniform requirements and instead have a site specific condition.
‘The purpose of the uniform conditions is to drive projects to be better sited and designed from inception, so the use of too many site specific conditions should be avoided,’ Friedrichsen told RTO Insider.
June Summers, president of Genesee Valley Audubon Society, said her organization supports the development of responsibly sited renewable energy facilities and other infrastructure, but ‘we do not want to see expedited renewable energy projects at the expense of our environment and birds.’ The society suggests using the Department of Environmental Conservation’s mitigation ratio of 3 acres of replacement habitat for birds and bats for every 1 taken, she said.
Kate Kremer, vice president of environmental advocacy group Save Ontario Shores (SOS), criticized the constant noise produced by wind turbines in quiet rural areas and quoted a study her organization commissioned by Rand Acoustics that found the proposed numerical standard would not protect people from the adverse health effects of the sound.
‘A 45-dBA [decibels] limit is more appropriate for louder residential urban areas; however, it is unreasonably high for quiet rural areas,’ Kremer said. ‘Germany now produces over 100,000 GWh every year with wind turbines that have a nighttime noise limit of 35 dBA. If Germany can be successful using this criterion, then so can New York.’
Kremer said that her organization also has been disappointed by the response from ORES, such as receiving formatted responses to email queries that do not address the issues raised.
‘And we have been told that, unlike the document website at the Department of Public Service, people who want information on these projects are going to need to use the extremely slow Freedom of Information Act process,’ Kremer said. ‘Given the rapid pace of the ORES siting process that is anticipated, and the advances of website information generally, the failure to have a single, publicly accessible location for all project documents is surprising and shows that faster siting, according to ORES, is also including less access and very little transparency.’
The deadline for comments is Dec. 7.
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