New state office to oversee permitting process
By Gwendolyn Craig
The largest solar project proposed in the Adirondack Park to date—40 megawatts near Great Sacandaga Lake–is of such a scale that it supplants the Adirondack Park Agency’s permitting process. Instead, permit jurisdiction falls under the relatively new Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES).
Boralex Inc., the solar developer proposing the Mayfield array, will be the first company to undertake this permit route in the Adirondack Park. It has not yet submitted a permit application, but once it does, many Adirondack Park constituents will be watching to see how the review unfolds.
Boralex spokesman Darren Suarez told the Explorer that the company was hesitant to propose a project in the Blue Line at first, considering the process is so new. ORES began operating in 2020 to help streamline renewable energy permits.
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James Townsend, senior advisor and counsel to the Adirondack Landowners Association, is not yet convinced that ORES could do the same job as the APA. The “proof is in the pudding,” he said. As an APA commissioner from 1999 to 2010, and later as APA counsel from 2013 to 2018, Townsend has a unique view from both staff and board side of the APA’s permitting process.
“I will defend the agency’s process over an unknown at the state process,” he said. “I think the important task for the state is the same lesson that the park agency learned over its 50 years—involving local people in a decision-making process gives much greater support to the outcome. They may not agree with the outcome, might not like the permit, but if they were part of the discussion, then they were less likely to object.”
How does the ORES process work? And how will these big solar projects contribute to the state’s climate goals?
Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, said the previous process for approving large-scale energy projects, be it renewable or fossil fuels, also included the possibility of overriding local rules and regulations. In that case, nothing is new.
The Explorer spoke with Reynolds, ORES, reviewed its regulations and received written answers from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to learn more.
ORES is a state office with 38 staff, who are dedicated solely to reviewing renewable energy applications of projects that are 25 megawatts or larger. Projects between 20 and 25 megawatts may also opt into the ORES process. The office was created through legislation based on the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act “to consolidate the environmental review.”
Once ORES receives a permit application, it has 60 days to determine if it’s complete. Once complete, the draft permit is released for public comment. ORES “must issue a final decision on the siting permit within one year of the date on which the application is deemed complete and within 6 months if the facility is proposed to be located on brownfield, former commercial or industrial, landfill, former power plant and abandoned or underutilized sites,” according to the ORES website.
ORES has permitted 11 applications so far. Four applications are complete, but under ORES review. Two projects have incomplete applications. Three projects have filed notices of intent. The Mayfield solar project is in its early stages, and not currently listed on the ORES website.
To view all of the applications that are in various ORES siting stages, go to: https://ores.ny.gov/permit-applications.
Prior to ORES, all 25-megawatt or larger energy projects (renewable or not) went through what’s called the Article 10 Review Process. “It was moving really, really slowly–for years,” Reynolds said. Now under ORES, renewable energy projects get their own review.
“It has been going somewhat faster,” Reynolds said. “A lot of good things are happening, but we won’t achieve it (the state’s climate goals) unless we get some more projects into construction.”
Separate from ORES projects, there are about 11 renewable energy projects in the state under construction that will deliver electricity to the grid. Reynolds said to keep up with the state’s climate law requiring 70% of the state’s electricity to be produced by renewable energy sources by 2030, there should be more like two dozen projects under construction each year.
If there are concerns or missing information in a permit, ORES will hold an adjudicatory hearing. That is a hearing before an administrative law judge, who will make a decision on the permit.
ORES has held at least one adjudicatory hearing so far. Another project is in the midst of a request for a hearing.
ORES regulations include several references to the Adirondack Park Agency, the state agency charged with long-range planning in the approximately 6-million-acre park and reviewing public and private development. APA will receive a copy of an ORES application “if such proposed facility is located within the Adirondack Park,” according to the regulations. The applicant must also provide ORES with proof that it has conferred with municipal planners and APA.
The APA is mentioned in ORES regulations mostly in the context of a renewable energy project’s impact on views. Maps must show “designated wilderness, forest preserve lands, scenic vistas specifically identified in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, NYSDEC lands, conservation easement lands,” and other land uses within a project’s study area. The regulations also reference a list of scenic vistas in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, but do not reference any of the land use and development density classifications.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is also to receive relevant applications and provide input on things like wetlands, water bodies, threatened and endangered species’ habitat, area wildlife and other environmental considerations.
Boralex is currently in the field studies phase and plans to submit its application to ORES in the second quarter of this year. Should the application be deemed complete, ORES would make a determination by the second quarter of 2024. Boralex estimates construction to begin mid-2024 with commercial operation by the end of 2025.
Energy producing facilities, including solar arrays, have what’s called a capacity factor, Reynolds said. A capacity factor, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is “the ratio of the electrical energy produced by a generating unit for the period of time considered to the electrical energy that could have been produced at continuous full power operation during the same period.” Nuclear energy generators, for example, can generally operate 24/7, giving them a higher capacity factor. Solar arrays, due to nighttime and weather, have a lower capacity factor.
Generally, NYSERDA said, solar projects have a capacity factor between 13% and 22%.
Boralex anticipates a 20% to 22% capacity factor over the course of the year, or roughly 4 megawatts for every hour throughout the year.
It’s a mix, said Reynolds. There is a requirement of 6 gigawatts of distributed solar by 2025. The 70% renewable energy by 2030 benchmark, however, references what energy is actually produced.
NYSERDA and the Department of Public Service require large-scale renewable energy projects to provide “rigorously modeled long-term, annual, hourly forecasts” when assessing a proposal, NYSERDA said.
“When measuring Climate Act goals, it is important to note that only actual generation, and not forecasted generation will be counted,” NYSERDA said.
Large-scale solar projects are tracked by the New York Independent System Operator and the New York State Generation Attribute Tracking System. Annual generation is also reported to the Energy Information Agency, according to NYSERDA. Projects under contract with NYSERDA also must meet certain performance requirements.
ORES regulations require a system reliability impact study “that shows expected flows on the system under normal, peak and emergency conditions.” ORES also requires an annual inspection program.
ORES requires applicants to have a decommissioning and site restoration plan. According to its regulations, it must include:
1. Safety and the removal of hazardous conditions;
2. Environmental impacts;
5. Potential future uses for the site;
6. Funding; and
ORES requires the applicant to include a 15% contingency cost for decommissioning and site restoration. A letter of credit or some other financial assurance will be held by the municipality hosting the project.
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Joe Kozlina says
So if i read this correctly the APA master plan was a just hindrance to development in the park so the state just created another agency to override the rules and regulations of the APA. If you just stick to the APA master plan and read all it rules and regulations the indusrtrial solar industry would have no chance of starting the permiting process.
Taking in just the views as a determination of where and how to build an industrial complex, (lets be clear this is not a FARM) blatantly says, how do we get around the regulations and make much money while telling the people this is good for our energy grid.
This type of indurtrial development is not sustainable. Again covering our fields forests and food producing lands with black glass is insane. Think about it. Do the calculations. Figure out how much black glass is needed to meet our needs and then see how much land is going to be covered by it. Then calculate how much land is already covered by house roofs, mall roofs, factory roofs, sky scraper roofs, spoiled strips of land between our highways, barn roofs, paved parking lots and you see we already have the area to cover with solar panels to accomplish our energy needs. The infrastructure is already there and the grid is just waiting to be tied into. ROOFS NOT FIELDS. Remember that.
Ed Sherman says
You are BANG ON ! So solar is ok, but omg don’t cut a tree on a snowmobile trail ! That could ruin the whole park ( lol)
Pat Smith says
Thanks for the article Gwendolyn. Another section of 94-C that is critical is 900-2.25-C on page 70. The second sentence reads “Pursuant to Executive Law Section 94-C, the Office may elect to not apply, in whole or in part, any local law or ordinance which would otherwise be applicable if it makes a finding that, as applied to the proposed facility, it is unreasonably burdensome in view of the CLCPA targets and the environmental benefits of the proposed facility” It’s hard to believe that covering thousands of acres of farmland and habitat holds many environmental benefits. The most aggravating thing is these developers and the state use the name plate rating to base their projections on. The truth is these facilities only operate at about 12-15% of capacity. Boralex gives our town residents the same spiel about producing at 20-23% capacity, while two other facilities located within 25 miles produce at 11.4% and 11.2%. Joe K is spot on in his comment “roof not fields”.
Pat Smith says
At 2:10 this afternoon the NYS total base load was 16,144 megawatts according to the NYSIOS dashboard. That 4 megawatts per hour isn’t going to go very far, not to mention that the base load will increase as we have to charge cars, heat homes ect.
Joe Kozlina says
I have yet to hear any argument dealing with which would be better or more sustainable for the people or planet, pertaining to the placement of solar on Roofs compared to Fields. Because there is none. I do hear alot about persons in state and federal govt positions spewing the solar corporate narratives as to the benefits of covering our land with black glass.
I know which side of the argument would make corporations more money.
Just to make it clear to any who read this, I am 100 percent for solar, just not on our food producing, forest producing, or wildlife producing lands. ROOFS NOT FIELDS.
I am a staunch alternative energy advocate, but I agree with your assessment. It is essentially ILLOGICAL to implement large-scale solar farms within the Blue Line. If alternate sites cannot be found outside of the Park, side-stepping the APA – an agency formed to protect the Park – should need to at least involve a constitutional amendment to Art. 14.
It is only logical to install solar farms in existing open or scrub lands where installing new transmission lines isn’t going to destroy existing forests – think rooftops (which you mention), interstate highway corridors, capped landfills, leased farmland, and even apparently now-defunct shopping malls. Pick this low-hanging fruit before cutting intact forests for transmission lines or running them through our lakes. Everyone, especially politicians, forget about the necessary transmission lines. And just say NO to large projects within the Park without a constitutional amendment with public input. It is the PEOPLE’S Park, not the State Energy Commission’s. Sometimes Albany forgets this. Lovers of the Park unfortunately have to keep reminding them.
We missed any opportunity to reverse our continuing contribution to climate change decades ago. Political and industrial “panic” is now misplaced. Many of these developers and politicians are out to cash in on this panic and tax breaks, and will be long gone in 10 years when the panels start to fail and need to be updated. Pols and developers are ALL ABOUT building projects, but not maintenance of the infrastructure they build. Alternate energies need to be funded for 100 year cycles, not just installation. But this investment will minimize profits to the owners of the energy installation, so it is the first funding to be kicked down the road indefinitely. Take the start-up cash (after selling a bill of goods to Albany) and run.
Peak load in NYS is about 34,000 MW which occurs at 4pm. These projects are tax scams, take all the tax breaks away and none would be done. At peak this would produce .00117 % of load.
Tom Paine says
How many trees where cut down?
Joe Kozlina says
It would be informative to know how many acres a 40MW project would cover.
I have a hard time understanding why big solar isn’t mandatory on brownfield sites first. In Solvay, Niagara Falls, Rochester and Buffalo there are thousands of brownfield acres with nearby transmission facilities, but no solar. Because the land is poisoned, it really can’t be used for much of anything.
For some political reason NYPA seems cut out from renewables development. New York State has excellent potential for pumped storage hydro. Yet this isn’t on the politicians radar because only well connected financial firms provide benefits to politicians. We don’t build meaningful things like NYPA did in the 1950s to 70s.
Lastly we’re told over and over about all the green jobs that these projects will deliver. Recall the tragic traffic death of 6 solar farm installers last fall near Massena… the victims were all Mexicans. Not local union workers being paid a living wage. It’s not a bug, rather a feature.
wash wild says
I farm in an intensive agricultural area a little outside the Park. Solicitations to put solar arrays on my fields arrive regularly. The land is in a ag district and zoned agricultural. Our area is a productive bread basket providing milk and eggs for Stewarts Shops as well as fruits, vegetables, beef and maple. There are also wool producers and a vibrant equine industry. Most of the farms here have good markets and would expand if more land were available. The fields and woodlots also host a variety of wildlife and are used by many for recreation.
New York State has used tax payer dollars to conserve some farmland while at the same time permitting, even encouraging, other nearby fields to be converted to landfills in a classic case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing. NYS continues to promote motorized recreation – snowmobiles, power boats, etc. – while claiming to be serious about carbon emissions. NYS colludes with the education lobby to burden all property owners with a crushing tax levy that encourages subdivision and conversion of farmland. And now NYS is promoting solar on our food producing lands even though there are thousands of acres of big box roof-tops, parking lots and abandoned industrial brownfields nearby. And the State plans to ignore town boards trying to preserve local economies and quality of life. Home rule be damned. I agree with the wisdom in the previous comments but to the well-oiled legislators in Albany such wisdom will slide like water off a duck’s back.
Joe Kozlina says
I think these are the comments and visions of the people our govt never gets to or wants to hear. These kinds of comments are drown out by big money. Most commenters here dont have the time or money to lobby for the logical thing to do. What we do have are lobbiest who have the time and money. Just lacking logic.
Mark Twichell says
Please recall that the reason ORES was created is because the Article 10 process afforded reasonable opposition to wind/solar projects through intervener funding. Those funds were used to hire attornies and pay for expert testimony on environmental issues which revealed reasons why nobody wants to live near these things. Testimonies also revealed the thin line between a true understanding of wind/solar/power grid realities and the typical hogwash presented by the renewable energy lobby. Article 10 followed the NYS Public Service Commission tradition of respecting’s SEQRA guidelines in determining environmental impact. ACE NY’s Ms. Reynolds led the appeal to Gov. Cuomo to remove the siting process from the PSC’s 7-member Siting Board and give it to ORES headed by one executive. True that the PSC could overrule local zoning regulations, but only after a “hard look” required by SEQRA. ORES violates the trust of NYS citizens by adopting a one-size-fits-all set of criteria for environmental consideration. In other words, the Blue Line is no more off-limits than my wind turbine/solar factory ravaged neighborhood in Northern Chautauqua County. Part of me says, “good for you Blue Liners to get a taste of what the rest of the state is facing”. But the last thing I want is to see the glare of 100 acres of black glass the next time I’m up on Marcy. That visual only represents habitat fragmentation, contaminated soil and water from PFAS running off the treated glass, dead waterfowl mistaking the sea of glass for a lake, no state mandated recycling of the toxic waste of the PV panels, a BESS bomb to store the intermittent 12% capacity factor, the precident for more solar factories to come, and the victory of climate zealots bent on revolutionizing the state’s economy by banning combustion.
Renewable energy is great until the total bill comes due.
The proposed site is for 200 acres. 200 acres cannot produce 40 megawatts. Solar fields are huge eyesores that are detrimental to native pollinators and animals. They produce very little power for the damage they will do both in the long and short term.
Solar plants (they are not Farms!!!) should not be covering farmland, woodlands reducing CO2 intake. The solar plants should be covering parking lots, roofs, wallsmaybe stone ledges along roads, put where the power not where it reduces land use, but parking lots power is right where you can use in buildings, recharge cars while at work, shopping, ect, requiring less miles of ned power utility lines, every large building is a good solar power plant, 1 it reduces sun on roof, less heat, longer roof life, power goes right to where its needed, less utility lines.
We need to stop the rampant destruction of farm land needed for ever growing food demands, stop covering meadows, cutting trees and reducing the CO2 absortion, which then actually increases co2 if less is being absorbed. sheer foolishness to think of covering thousands of acres of farm and fields has no choice but to increase CO2. make use of land already wasted, a nice shaded parking lot, and charge car , more senseable.
Let’s put some wind turbines up in the Peaks while we’re at it. Nothing like blades on the skyline to improve the views and inspire the soul. It’s amazing how the environmental left goes silent with bird and animal deaths due to solar arrays and wind turbines. They will look the other way if it doesn’t fit the narrative. The state could also be promoting carbon credits to farmers, which could be as beneficial as leasing their land out to wind and solar, but they seem to want to keep that a secret.
And still we keep voting them in…..
Marianne Victor says
What will happen to the wild life in the Adrondack State Park? Sad day if this moves forward!