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June 4, 2020

NYS Climate Goals Surviving Amid COVID-19

Despite the impact of the current pandemic, New York State continues to energize the development of renewable energy projects in pursuit of its carbon emissions reduction goals. There have been numerous actions and announcements over the last few weeks from the New York Public Service Commission (PSC), the governor’s office, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) that impact the state’s renewable energy industry.

On May 14, 2020, the PSC granted NYSERDA’s petition for the expansion of its NY-Sun Program in order to meet the state’s goal of 6 gigawatts (GW) of solar, as directed by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. NYSERDA has administered programs since 2004 to incentivize the development of solar throughout the state. More than 2.2 GW of distributed solar projects are in operation in New York State currently. The PSC approved expansion of the NY-Sun program and expanded the budget by $573 million.

On June 1, NYSERDA filed an updated plan reflecting the program expansion that details their new 2020-2025 operating plan aligning with New York State’s new laws. NYSERDA’s operating plan can be accessed on the PSC’s website at the NY-Sun docket, Case 19-E-0735. NYSERDA is also directed to file a report on any material changes resulting from the impacts of COVID-19 on the distributed solar industry and, particularly, its ability to support disadvantaged communities by June 15, 2020.

Governor Cuomo also remarked last week on the growing need for transmission to support the state’s clean energy goals. On May 26, 2020, during one of his daily COVID-19 updates, Governor Cuomo talked about accelerating big infrastructure programs in the state, stating he wants to see cross-state transmission lines built to bring the renewable energy generated in Upstate New York to Downstate. As he said, “Let’s stop talking and let’s start doing. Let’s invigorate this whole renewable market.”

As evidenced by a webinar co-hosted by NYSERDA on May 29, 2020, renewable energy developers are anxious to resume construction on pending projects given the state’s reopening on a regional basis, and NYSERDA is providing guidance to get those projects going as quickly as possible. During the webinar, NYSERDA laid out the requirements contractors will need to comply with to begin or resume construction on renewable energy projects. NYSERDA’s requirements align with the NYS Department of Health’s construction guidance, which requires an attestation from companies before beginning work.

NYSERDA also noted it is the responsibility of contractors to monitor the status of each region contractors have projects in, as the reopening is being done on a regional basis. The regional monitoring dashboard has all of the up-to-date information on each region. NYSERDA also warned contractors working on NYSERDA contracts to comply with these new sets of state-issued guidance or else be faced with disciplinary action.

Lastly, on May 29, the PSC issued a notice requesting comments on its Host Community Benefit Program, which is part of New York State’s Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act (the Act). Section 8 of the Act states the PSC will establish a program through which the owners of major renewable energy facilities will fund a benefit for electric-distribution utility customers located in the municipalities that host the facilities. The Act notes that the host community benefit can take the form of a bill discount or credit or a compensatory or environmental benefit for impacted electric utility customers. Comments are due to the Department of Public Service on July 3, 2020 by 4:30 p.m.

Our attorneys will continue to monitor these events and are available to answer questions.

If you have any questions regarding this or any other issue regarding renewable energy development, please contact Brenda Colella, Regulatory Practice Area co-chair and co-leader of the Renewable Energy and Energy Market Teams, at bcolella@barclaydamon.com; Ekin Senlet, partner, at esenlet@barclaydamon.com; or Angela Sicker, law clerk, at asicker@barclaydamon.com.

We also have a specific team of Barclay Damon attorneys who are actively working on assessing regulatory, legislative, and other governmental updates related to COVID-19 and who are prepared to assist clients. Please contact Yvonne Hennessey, COVID-19 Response Team leader, at yhennessey@barclaydamon.com or any member of the COVID-19 Response Team at COVID-19ResponseTeam@barclaydamon.com.

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