As part of a deal at the end of the current legislative session, the New York Legislature has passed the “Power NY Act of 2011,” a sweeping energy bill negotiated between Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders. Section 12 of the new law reauthorizes and modernizes Article X of the Public Service Law, which expired on January 1, 2003, governing the siting and approval of power plants in New York.
The absence of a power plant siting law has been cited by some as one important reason why there has been scant development of power plants in New York in recent years, including alternative energy sources. (Others have cited the poor economy as the primary roadblock to new power plant development.)
Like its predecessor, the new version of Article X aims to centralize and streamline the siting approval process, although the threshold for application of the law has been lowered from 80 to 25 megawatts. The law creates and vests permitting authority with the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (“the Board”). Seeking to balance the need for local input in siting decisions with the obstacles posed by “NIMBY” opposition to new power plants, the statute provides that two local residents will be part of the Board for each proceeding. The other five members of the Board will all be State officials. The law also provides for “intervenor funding” which will enable municipalities and other local parties to participate in all phases of the administrative review, including the mandated adjudicatory hearing.
The Board is given authority to override local laws and ordinances if they are “unreasonably burdensome.” Unless otherwise agreed to by an applicant or extended due to a “material and substantial amendment to the application” or “extraordinary circumstances,” Board decisions must be rendered within a year of the application being deemed complete.
Article X displaces the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process for covered projects, but mandates several environmental analyses of the facility’s impacts. These analyses include a “cumulative air quality analysis” of the combined effects from the proposed facility, other proposed sources and all existing sources; a description of the demographics of the surrounding community; and a description of “reasonable and available” alternative locations. It also requires the Board to find that the project minimizes or avoids disproportionate impacts on the surrounding community.
There are significant differences between the new version of Article X and the expired version. The lower 25 megawatt threshold will allow smaller projects to be covered by the law and may particularly benefit developers of wind projects, which in most cases would not have been covered by the expired version. The increased emphasis on environmental justice impacts addresses concerns stated by environmental groups. Current applicants for local and state permits for a power plant may elect to be covered by the new law.
In what appears to be the first legislative enactment that specifically and directly addresses greenhouse gas emissions, Section 21 of the Power NY Act requires the Department of Environmental Conservation to promulgate regulations “targeting reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide” for new power plants with a capacity of 25 megawatts or more.
Mark LeBel is a Summer Associate at Sive, Paget & Riesel, P.C.