New York State continues to supercharge the deployment of renewable energy projects. Building on landmark legislation passed in 2019, New York State’s newly created Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) has now finalized the regulations that will govern siting and permitting of large-scale renewable energy projects greater than 25 MW; projects between 20 and 25MW have the option of proceeding under Article 10 of the Public Service Law or the ORES process. The regulations create a clear glide path that replaces the lengthy and cumbersome process previously established under Article 10. With these new procedures in place, developers can expect a 60-day shot clock for ORES to make a completeness determination, and a 12-month deadline for ORES to issue a final decision on a siting permit to promote cost-effective and efficient development that aligns with New York State’s commitment to fully decarbonize its electric sector by 2040.
The finalized regulations largely track the draft regulations that ORES published in September 2020. Following a period of accepting stakeholder comments and conducting numerous Statewide public hearings on those draft regulations, ORES incorporated several key clarifications and adjustments.
All permits issued by ORES will include a “host community benefit.” This obligation was clarified in the final regulations to suggest that developers have the option of choosing a payment or incentive determined by the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC), ORES or separately agreed to between the applicant and the community. Just last month, the PSC established a Host Community Benefit Program through which project owners would pay $500/MW (for solar) and $1,000/MW (for wind) that would be distributed through a complex utility customer compensation formula. The PSC’s host community benefit option may well be the path of least resistance to solar developers, as the administrative and operational burden of distributing the benefit has been shifted to the local distribution utilities. It remains to be seen whether ORES will utilize the PSC’s Host Community Benefit Program or ignore it by requiring a separate benefit mechanism.
ORES also enhanced the manner in which developers are required to engage in pre-application coordination with the local municipality. Prior to filing an application, the applicant must conduct meetings with municipal officials and provide substantive summaries of local laws applicable to the project, which have now been broadened to include laws pertaining to operation, maintenance and decommissioning of the facility. The final regulations also extend the required time period to provide notice for community meetings and broaden the list of agencies that will receive the applicant’s notice of intent to file an ORES application.
Applicants that are migrating to the ORES regime from a pending Article 10 application or other permitting process must now provide notice to ORES at least 14 days in advance. All applicants, whether transferring to ORES or submitting a new application, are required to submit a $1,000/MW application fee due at the time of filing to recover the costs of reviewing and processing the application. As of the date of this article, 18 large-scale renewable projects have provided notice to the PSC of their decision to be subject to Executive Law 94-c in lieu of Article 10 so that they can take advantage of the streamlined ORES permitting process. With these regulations finalized, developers now have a reasonably defined pathway to efficiently permit and site large-scale projects to support New York State’s nation-leading climate objectives.