On February 21st, 2020, New York Governor Cuomo announced a 30-day budget amendment that would “dramatically speed up the permitting and construction of renewable energy projects.” The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act at this stage has two main mechanisms. The first is to effectively bypass the burdensome Article 10 Permitting Process by placing authority for siting and permitting renewable resources with the Department of Economic Development (the state arm of the Empire State Development Corporation). Secondly, the amendment creates a program where the New York State Energy Research and Development Authorities (NYSERDA), the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the Department of Public Service (DPS) work together to develop “build-ready sites for renewable energy projects.”
If the act passes, and if the Article 10 bypass survives the next state election, then this amendment will have a significant impact on New York’s ability to meet the ambitious goals outlined in the Clean Energy and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) the landmark 2019 law that requires New York to source 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and to ultimately have a 100% carbon-free economy by 2050.
EVA in December 2019 published an op-ed outlining why Article 10 would prevent the state from reaching its energy goals after publishing a special report on the power sector impacts of the CLCPA and performing a study on the cost of decommissioning the recently permitted Canisteo Wind Farm. In that op-ed, EVA argued that Article 10 has essentially prevented projects larger than 25 MW from being built, even as the queue of utility-scale projects has grown. For reference, at the time of writing, the average capacity of a solar project in the Article 10 queue is 160 MW, but the largest solar farm built in the state since Article 10 was passed into law was 24.9 MW (or just under the applicable threshold). Furthermore, onshore wind projects have taken an average of 1,350 days to progress from filing a Public Involvement Program to receiving a final determination from the state—not counting the several large projects that dropped out following delays stemming from community opposition.
Opposition to the proposed process overhaul was nearly immediate. State Senator Tom O’Mara (R) was quoted saying, “Governor Cuomo is moving to completely remove local control and input, and bypass local zoning in what are going to be significant and environmentally impactful siting decisions. The well-being of local communities will take a back seat to what’s best for the state in terms of costs and siting.”
O’Mara wasn’t alone in criticizing the governor. State Senator Marjorie Byrnes (R) held a press conference to criticize the amendment stating, “Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget contains language that would give the state total control over large-scale solar and wind projects throughout upstate New York… All local input would be eliminated from these projects in the governor’s latest power grab. Local governments and residents should have control over projects in their communities.”
Opposition in the state legislature from minority-Republican legislators is mirrored in the rural upstate regions, where leaders from various townships and other municipalities are voicing disapproval to the legislation. Somerset, a township in Niagara County where developers are currently trying to build 200 MW of wind and 450 MW of large-scale solar, has declared itself an “Article 23 Sanctuary Town” in protest of the new law. Yates, in nearby Orleans County, was first to pass such a resolution declaring that townships will not “provide any local resources or cooperation towards approval, administration, and/or enforcement of permits issued pursuant to Article 23.” Such resolutions expose the extent to which rural regions oppose the amendment and, to a certain extent, large-scale renewable deployment.
Nevertheless, Democrats currently have a majority in both chambers of the New York state legislature, holding 105 of 150 House seats and 40 of the 63 Senate seats following the 2018 midterm elections. This marks the first time that Democrats have held the New York State Senate since 2008. That said, if the amendment proves to be unpopular in contested regions as it is in traditionally Republican-voting districts, then it may not receive sufficient support in the Senate.
The proposed amendment has garnered significant support with renewable developers and advocates, as well as some national and local environmental organizations. The Alliance for Clean Energy of New York (ACE NY), whose members include a coalition of renewable developers and environmental NGOs, has long been a vocal proponent of the reforming Article 10 is a leading supporter of Cuomo’s amendment. Additional support has come from a broad coalition of national and local sources. A March 4th “Unity Letter” addressed to Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D), and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) in support of the amendment included signatures from the National Resource Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Binghamton Regional Sustainability Council, the Real Estate Board of New York, state labor union 32BJ, and other organizations. This week, clean energy policy heavyweight Suzanne Hunt and venture capitalist Jigar Shah co-published an op-ed in The Buffalo News advocating that accelerating renewable deployment in New York would “accelerate thousands of good paying jobs and prevent millions of tons of carbon dioxide.” The op-ed went on to frame Article 10 as a barrier to economic development—an argument that is likely to resonate with voters as a potential recession looms large over the U.S economy.
EVA’s current position is that the amendment will pass and is likely to remain in place. Current economic conditions seem to favor the bill and, by extension, the future success of the CLCPA. Legislators may find it politically hazardous to vote against a bill promoting job creation. Moreover, opposition from townships may be somewhat muted as project revenues become more attractive in a less robust economic environment.
Looking forward, if the amendment doesn’t pass, it seems highly unlikely, barring another significant policy reform, that New York state will meet the targets outlined in the CLCPA. EVA modeling suggests that the state needs to see onshore wind generation increase fourfold from 4.4 GWh in 2019 to nearly 17.6 GWh in 2025 in order to comply with the CLCPA in a least-cost manner. The question of whether the state can efficiently and effectively procure “build-ready” sites while allowing outstanding projects to begin construction will be vital in understanding how and at what cost New York will attain even its earliest targets.
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