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February 21, 2020

Governor Cuomo's New Act to Accelerate Renewable Energy Development

Governor Cuomo just announced that he is advancing a 30-day budget amendment that would dramatically speed up the permitting and construction of renewable energy projects. If adopted, the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act (the Act) will create a new Office of Renewable Energy Permitting with the goals of streamlining the process for environmentally responsible and cost-effective siting of large-scale renewable energy projects across New York while providing opportunities and incentives for local communities. The Department of Economic Development (under the Empire State Development) will house the new Office of Renewable Energy Permitting.

Notably, the new office will:

  • Utilize project siting standards that reflect the environmental impacts common to renewable projects, and include upfront mitigation measures to address those impacts.
  • Develop draft permits for public comment and ensure complete applications are acted upon within one year, except in the case of certain former commercial and industrial sites, which will have an expedited review of six months.

Municipalities will have an opportunity to advise the Permitting Office on compliance with local laws. The Permitting Office will have the ability to apply local law in light of the state’s goals under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).

Projects that are already in the Article 10 siting process will have the ability to opt-in to the new permitting process and accelerate their schedule for completion.

The Act also provides incentives for developers as well as host communities. In order to incentivize development, the act creates, through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the Clean Energy Resources Development and Incentives Program aimed at rapidly advancing new "build-ready" projects and prioritizing the development of existing or abandoned commercial sites, brownfields, landfills, former industrial sites, and abandoned or otherwise underutilized sites. NYSERDA, in consultation with Empire State Development and other agencies, will immediately begin pursuing site control and pre-construction development activities for potential new renewable energy projects, including permitting and resource feasibility assessments, host community and PILOT agreements, design, planning, and other appropriate activities necessary to establish build-ready sites.

In an effort to address issues with host communities, NYSERDA will also develop a Host Communities Benefit Program for build-ready site property owners to receive incentives to host major renewable energy facilities. NYSERDA will also play a consultant role in the development of PILOT agreements.

The Act also creates a new program that will provide utility bill discounts for residents of host communities. NYSERDA will also create a new Local Workforce Opportunities Fund for host communities with clean energy workforce training grants for which host communities would be eligible to apply.

The Act also addresses grid planning and transmission constraint relief. The act seeks to incentivize and accelerate investment in and development of transmission by:

  • Developing a bulk transmission investment program that accelerates development through existing planning and development processes and also relies on 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 for transmission infrastructure built within existing rights-of-way to timely achieve the state's goals for renewables buildout and emissions reduction.
  • Directing NYSERDA, in consultation with 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 and 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 whose service territories local upgrades are deemed necessary.

If adopted by the state legislature, the act could have major implications for project developers and local communities in New York.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Brenda Colella, Regulatory Practice Area co-chair and co-team leader of the Renewable Energy and Energy Markets Teams, at bcolella@barclaydamon.com; Ekin Senlet, partner, at esenlet@barclaydamon.com; Angela Sicker, law clerk, at asicker@barclaydamon.com; or another member of the firm’s Renewable Energy Team.

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