Governor wants to speed up permitting process for large-scale solar, wind energy projects

Photo by Tom Rivers: Solar panels are shown in Ridgeway on Saturday at the corner of Route 31 and Beals Road. This project has been under construction for several months and is expected to be turned on April 15.

Staff Reports Posted 25 February 2020 at 1:58 pm

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to speed up the permitting process for large-scale renewable energy projects, including solar and wind energy that are often met with resistance in their communities.

“This legislation will help achieve a more sustainable future, invigorating the green economy and reaffirming New York’s position as a market leader with a revamped process for building and delivering renewable energy projects faster,” Cuomo said on Friday in announcing the legislation which is a 30-day budget amendment.

If adopted, the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act will create a new Office of Renewable Energy Permitting to improve and streamline the process for siting of large-scale renewable energy projects. The governor said the projects deliver significant benefits to local communities.

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley is critical of the governor’s proposal because he said it takes local control of energy projects from local municipalities.

“This is an unprecedented attack on the autonomy of our local governments,” Hawley said in a statement. “If the people who live in our towns and villages Upstate have no say when it comes to something as fundamental as land use, what rights can they reasonably expect to maintain? Of course Cuomo’s wealthy donors in the energy industry want him to be able to handpick their projects and situate them wherever is best for them. That doesn’t mean the governor should go along with it.”

The governor wants to establish the Office of Renewable Energy Permitting, which will consolidate the environmental review and permitting of major renewable energy facilities. This will create a single forum in which the Department of Economic Development’s (the state agency arm of Empire State Development) new Office of Renewable Energy Permitting, or “Permitting Office,” to ensure permitting decisions are predictable, responsible, and delivered on pace to help the state achieve a goal of having 70 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

The governor wants to ensure that complete applications are acted upon within one year, except in the case of certain former commercial and industrial sites, which will be reviewed within six months.

Municipalities will have an opportunity to advise the Permitting Office on compliance with local laws and the Permitting Office will consider and may apply local laws in light of the state’s clean energy and environmental goals.

Projects that have already commenced permitting under the current Article 10 process will be able to opt-in to the new permitting process to ensure they can also accelerate their schedule for completion.

State Sen. Chris Jacobs of Buffalo, who is running for Congress, also criticized the proposal by Cuomo.

“I have seen this Governor try to ride roughshod over the democratic process and rights of local communities many times in the past, but this is by far the worst instance,” Jacobs said.

The current law governing the siting of renewable energy projects allows local municipalities to have representation and a voice in whether a project application is approved. The new system being proposed by Cuomo creates a review and permitting process controlled entirely by the governor’s state agencies, Jacobs said.

“This is the most undemocratic and frankly arrogant proposal from the governor I have seen,” Jacobs said.

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