Hearing set on energy project rules

The state Office of Renewable Energy Siting was formed after the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth & Community Benefits Act was established in April. A virtual public hearing will be held on Thursday for the new standards and conditions proposed by the office. Screenshot

LOWVILLE — North country residents can have their say on new uniform standards and conditions proposed for wind and solar projects during a virtual public hearing scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday.

There were no such standards and conditions in the Article 10 process that had been used to ensure the environmental safety for the location, or site, of proposed renewable energy projects that would produce more than 25 megawatts of power. Project developers each negotiated the conditions for each project.

“Under Article 10, it was as if each new solar project was the first one that New York regulators had ever seen. If a town asked, ‘What are the setbacks? What’s the requirement for vegetation planting around a solar (farm) to reduce visual impact?’ a developer could never answer because each was considered on a case-by-case basis,” said Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy in a news conference hosted by the Sierra Club, “Now the (proposed) regulations are still very long ... but the good part is that it lays out exactly what the requirements are for wind and solar and the towns, the neighbors and the developers all know up front what the requirements are.”

The uniform standards and conditions and new regulations were created by the Office of Renewable Energy Siting — formed as a result of the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act enacted on April 3 — and posted on their website on Sept. 16.

The uniform guidelines are designed to streamline the environmental approval process required to validate the sites chosen by energy companies for their renewable projects.

Uniform standards and conditions will make unnecessary the “certificate conditions” that were additional requirements created through the environmental review process that had to be met before construction could commence, and are anticipated to speed up the process to get the renewable energy projects up and running more quickly.

Local municipal and public engagement expectations are outlined in the standards document and while it states that energy companies must follow local laws, an exception is given “for those provisions of local laws that the Office determined to be unreasonably burdensome, as stated in the siting permit.”

Issues that had previously required the most negotiations and intensive studies and were often contested by anti-wind or solar groups are among those addressed in the proposed standards and conditions document.

— “Shadow flicker” must be kept to a maximum of 30 hours annually for nearby residents who are not part of the project for wind projects and solar project will have to hire a specialist to inspect trees planted to screen the project for two years following construction.

— To protect endangered species in project areas, energy companies will be required to create a Net Conservation Benefit Plan that will result “in a positive benefit on each of the affected species” and how that will be accomplished.

— Endangered and threatened grassland birds, bats and bald eagles each have their own set of rules to protect them in the proposed standards and conditions. Those include limiting construction in nesting or wintering areas, acceptable distances from nesting areas for construction and actions to take when nests or breeding areas are found.

— Measures are set to minimize the impact on wetlands, streams and agricultural resources and to ensure there is no negative impact on groundwater supplies.

— Wind farm noise levels, which were not consistent through Article 10, will now be standard at 45 decibels for sound reaching non-participating homes and 55 decibels for residences that are part of the wind project if the proposed standards are accepted.

— For decommissioning a wind or solar farm, energy companies will be required to provide a letter of credit to cover costs to be held by the local municipality hosting the project for an amount to be agreed upon by those two parties. If they can’t agree, the siting office will decide on the amount.

According to the office’s website, its goal with the new regulations and standards is to “consolidate the environmental review of major renewable energy facilities and provide a single forum to ensure that siting decisions are predictable, responsible, and delivered in a timely manner along with opportunities for input from local communities.”

A more efficient, expedited process will help the 2040 goal of operating on 100% carbon-free electricity.

The proposed regulations are not up for comment during the virtual hearing, however comments can be submitted on the Office’s website for both documents until Dec. 7.

To read the proposed standards and conditions or regulations documents and submit comments on either document, go to the Office’s website at ores.ny.gov/regulations. Comments can also be emailed to general@ores.ny.gov.

The 5 p.m. public hearing can be accessed by going to webex.com and using event number 173 331 7080 and password 11.19PSH. By phone, call 518-549-0500 and use the same access code.

Information on how to participate in the virtual hearing can also be found on the ORES website in the “events” section.

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