Overcoming Challenges to Siting Renewables

New York State has set an ambitious goal of generating at least 50 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2030. While cleaning our energy mix is a bipartisan and largely uncontroversial proposition in the state in theory, in practice is has been significantly more challenging. In Suffolk County, for example, two planned large-scale solar farms are now facing a significant challenge from an effort to expand the Pine Barrens to the areas where they were to be sited. This has prompted the state, renewable energy developers and environmental groups to look for policy changes to make it easier to build renewables.

The state’s 50×30 renewable energy goal became an official mandate last year with the Clean Energy Standard (CES), which was issued by the Public Service Commission (PSC). Built into the CES is a progressive phase-in of this goal, with mechanisms such as a zero-emissions credit system built in to help ensure success.

Getting renewable energy projects up and running, however, is a long and expensive process that is often met with local resistance and requires many approvals that could serve to undermine the CES. The main focus has been reforming Article 10, the state’s current siting process. Passed in 2011, the process requires public engagement, intervenor funding, and studies on environmental, social, economic and environmental justice impacts of a proposed project. To date, However, no large-scale wind or solar project has completed this process.

Last week, The Nature Conservancy and Alliance for Clean Energy New York released the key findings and recommendations of their roundtable on this issue. As a state with Constitutional home rule, localities have a great deal of say about land use and development in their jurisdiction. One of the report’s main recommendations is to work with these communities earlier in the process and engage them to build support. They also offered thoughts on how to make the process more efficient, less expensive, while balancing competing concerns.

Paul Agresta, the top lawyer at the PSC, admitted there have been some lessons learned already in the siting process but cautioned those questioning Article 10 that properly siting a facility takes time and he expressed confidence in the process moving forward:

“Eventually these guys are going to get to the point where we’re going to have five different hearings going on at the same time because they’ve all finally gotten through the queue. Siting a major electric [generation] facility is a five-year process, it just is…I don’t see it as a failure at all, I think it’s working well.”

With significant changes in the energy sector and the urgent need to aggressively respond to climate change, questions on the efficacy of the siting process are to be expected and tweaks will need to be made going forward. New York has an opportunity to lead the way for promoting robust renewable energy development and we look forward to continuing to partner with all stakeholders to both be respectful of local concerns while ensuring that enough renewables can be built to keep us on track to meet our 50×30 goal.