Posted on September 22, 2011 by Stephen Herrmann
Recently Japan’s nuclear accident emphasized one important aspect of where to build power plants, and now the State of New York has adopted a new power plant siting law which could be a model for other states.
After not having a law on the books since 2003, New York has adopted a siting law and created a new panel to oversee the development of new power-generating facilities in the State. The bill, called the Power New York Act, was adopted to rare applause of both environmentalists and business groups. Efforts to establish a new siting law in New York had stalled over the years, thereby limiting the State’s ability to build new facilities and power sources including wind and solar.
Power New York Act of 2011 is a sweeping energy bill. 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 new law hopefully will create a one-stop siting decision-maker.
The law establishes a new seven-person board to oversee the development of power plants in excess of 25 megawatts of energy, which would capture wind farms and even some battery-storage facilities. The old law limited the board’s oversight to plants with more than 60 megawatts of power, which often left local communities to decide how to handle smaller projects.
The law creates and vests permitting authority with the New York State Board on Electric Generating Siting and the Environment. The statute provides that two local residents will be part of the board for each proceeding. The other five members of the board will be state officials. The law also provides for “intervener 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 by an applicant or extended due to a “material and substantial amendment to the application” or “extraordinary circumstances,” the board’s decisions must be rendered within a year of the application’s being deemed complete.
Article X overrides the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act which previously covered projects, and instead calls for several environmental analyses of a facility’s impacts. These analyses include a “cumulative air quality analysis” that evaluates the combined effects from the proposed facility, other proposed sources and all existing sources; describes the demographics of the surrounding community; and sets out “reasonable and available” alternative locations. It also requires the board to find that the project minimizes or avoids disproportionate impacts on the surrounding community.
The absence of a power plant siting law has been cited as an important reason why there has been scant development of power plants in New York in recent years, including alternative energy sources. If the new law works in New York, it could become a model for other states.