Comment period ending on new proposed solar, wind siting rules to speed up the process

This solar power installation is part of the Saranac Lake Community Solar project on state Route 86. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

LOWVILLE — The new draft regulations now approaching the end of their public comment period make clear that with renewable energy projects, timing is everything — and the timing, as projects march toward approval, will be fast-paced.

Under the draft regulations submitted for public comment by the new Office of Renewable Siting in September, the renewable project review and approval process must be completed and the final decision issued by the siting office’s executive director within six months of the submission of an application for a project on a “re-purposed site,” like a former manufacturing or energy production site, or within one year for all other locations. A 30-day extension will be possible if the energy company and siting office agree.

The pre-application process under the new regulations begins “no less than 60 days” before an application for siting approval is filed and starts with meetings with local government leaders and any agencies they recommend.

Applicant energy companies will provide a description of the facility and the site they have chosen along with maps and potential impacts the project may have on the local community, the local laws that will apply to the project and how the company will comply through design changes and other measures.

They must also indicate which local laws, if any, they plan to ask the siting office to waive because they are “unreasonably burdensome.”

Energy companies will also need to meet at least once with community members “who may be adversely impacted by the siting of the facility.”

Issues and questions raised at these meetings and answers provided are also to be included in the company’s application.

While Article 10 law lists the areas renewable energy companies were expected to address in their applications, the specific requirements for everything from wetlands to endangered species to noise and visual impacts were determined through the siting process for each project. The new draft regulations, however, are detailed and specific.

“The proposed regulations provide a one-stop process that … proactively addresses the key reoccurring issues in the permitting of large scale renewable energy projects,” said the Siting Office Assistant Deputy Director Houtan Moaveni, who was involved in writing the new regulations, “From local community and municipality perspectives, the new siting process provides increased transparency and protections for major local siting concerns.”

There are mechanisms through which any of those groups participating in the siting process can recommend more stringent standards or a deviation from practices outlined in the regulations with the approval of the siting office, however, the expectation appears to be that using the pre-application process to ensure that an applicant is meeting the uniform standards and conditions and process regulations will help to expedite the actual application process.

The siting office and relevant state agencies have a specific time frame in which to respond to the reports and mitigation plans provided by the applicant company, often in the 60-day range. The new siting process also provides clear deadlines for every step along the way including the resulting compliance, re-filing and ultimate approval.

Unlike the Article 10 process, which was decided by a multi-member siting board that included two “ad hoc” members from host communities involved with the proposed project, the final decision for siting approval going forward will be made by the executive director of the new siting office, taking into consideration the recommendations of the administrative law judge that director appoints to preside over the application hearing.

“Intervenor” groups or individuals were allowed to participate in both the pre-application and application process under Article 10 and the applying energy companies were required to pay fees that were then set aside in an “intervenor account” from which the funds were drawn to help the local intervenors and agencies pay for the experts, studies and legal representation needed to take their stand in the process.

Applying companies will no longer have to pay a $350 per kilowatt of the amount of energy the project will produce for the Intervenor Fund for the pre-application process, only the $1,000 per kilowatt hour paid for the application review process which will go into a “local agency account.”

The regulations stipulate that 75% of the money put in that fund must go to local agencies, implying that community members and groups that become “intervenors” are left the remaining 25%. There was no such breakdown under Article 10.

People, groups and agencies interested in becoming intervenors or parties in the process will have a 30 day, rather than a 45 day, window to do so going forward.

The siting office is required to post draft permit conditions, the public comment period and public comment hearing on their website within 60 days of determining the project application is complete.

After the completion of the final hearing on a renewable project application, the administrative judge presiding over the proceeding will have 45 days to file their recommendations and the siting executive director will have 30 days to issue their final decision.

The Article 10 approval process, enacted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2011, has already resulted in the approval of nine renewable energy projects, each which took between three and four years to complete the process with additional time to meet conditions added to the project for approval before construction could begin.

Of the 48 projects that remain in the Article 10 cue, eight are proposed for the tri-county area. Any of these projects that will produce 25 kilowatts or more are eligible to opt in to the new process.

The Office of Renewable Energy Siting and the new regulations, standards and conditions for project siting were created under the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act passed as part of the state budget on April 3, to ensure the state is able to reach its target of running on 70% renewable energy by 2030 and to have a power sector with zero emissions through 100% renewable energy by 2040.

The final virtual public statement hearing will be held today. To submit comments, email them to general@ores.ny.gov or go to the siting office’s website where links are also provided to attend the hearing virtually on the “events” page.

Comments on the draft regulations and the uniform standards and conditions for the new siting process can be made until Dec. 7 on the Office of Renewable Energy Siting website, https://ores.ny.gov where the full documents can also be accessed.


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