Breaking Down the Barriers to Siting Renewable Energy in New York

February 28, 2019

This week, NYLCVEF released a white paper on the barriers to siting renewable energy in New York and possible approaches to overcoming these obstacles. New York State has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change and increasing renewable energy is a central component of this plan. In 2016, the state adopted an ambitious Clean Energy Standard (CES), which requires renewables to provide 50% of the state’s electricity by 2030. More recently, in December 2018, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to transition the state to 100% clean energy by 2040. This formidable goal will require a rapid and comprehensive transition to renewable energy generation statewide, one that will necessitate cooperation and collaboration between private and public entities, and local communities.

However, a number of barriers exist that make it difficult to site wind and solar projects in New York State. Often, localities have local laws and ordinances that impede development of wind and solar projects. For example, moratoria on development of renewables, which are intended to give localities more time to develop regulations, often delay development and dissuade potential investments in renewables. In addition, for large-scale installations (over 25 MW), Article 10 of New York State’s Public Service Law requires developers to engage in a lengthy and complex permitting process that, as of December 2018, has only resulted in full certification for one project.

Transmission of renewable energy provides an additional barrier: currently, New York does not have enough existing transmission capacity to support its clean energy goals. Further, developing new transmission lines and expanding existing infrastructure is expensive and complex, and not progressing fast enough to meet the CES deadlines. Finally, public opposition to large scale renewable projects has slowed their expansion statewide. Communities have voiced concerns with the environmental and economic impacts of proposed installations, which often require a large amount of land and are not always compatible with existing land uses.

NYLCVEF’s report describes these barriers in detail and proposes five preliminary policy recommendations for addressing siting challenges. First, the cumbersome Article 10 process should be reformed to facilitate permitting of large-scale renewable projects. Doing so should include clarifying provisions and procedures within the Article, such as the definition of what constitutes an “unreasonably burdensome” local law, and streamlining the overall process for developers. In addition, the report recommends that localities incorporate large-scale renewable development into their long-term land-use planning. For example, previously disturbed areas such as brownfields and landfills may serve as optimal locations for solar installations, but local policies are needed to encourage development in these areas.

Similarly, developers and state agencies are encouraged to engage communities early in the siting process, so that residents can voice their concerns and collaborate to advance renewable projects. Educating the public about the benefits of renewable energy will serve this goal, and should be a priority among state agencies and interested stakeholders involved in renewable energy siting. Finally, developers and host communities are encouraged to explore options to ensure municipalities benefit from renewable installations. Investing back into communities will provide co-benefits for developers, investors, and localities, and ultimately accelerate the adoption of renewable energy in a way that can be sustained over the long term.

NYLCVEF is holding a series of rountables across the state to discuss the barriers to siting renewable energy projects. Through convening a range of stakeholders, including community groups, developers, environmental organizations, local governments, and state agencies in productive conversations, our goal is to identify specific recommendations for each location, incorporate them into an advocacy campaign, and help New York achieve its ambitious renewable energy goals.

By Talia Sechley

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