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On April 24, 2024, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an audit report on the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), which was established under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) to accelerate the siting of large-scale renewable energy projects. The key finding of the report, that the siting process from application submission to the issuance of siting permits averaged about 1,333 days–nearly 3.7 years–will come as no surprise to those who are working to get renewable energy projects approved and constructed in New York state. The audit covers the period from April 2020 through July 2023 and aims to evaluate ORES’s effectiveness in achieving New York’s ambitious renewable energy targets. The findings are particularly relevant given that the New York legislature just expanded the ORES portfolio to include transmission permitting for renewable energy projects.

The audit stressed the need for greater transparency in the permitting process to identify inefficiencies and areas needing improvement. Although vital, the complexity of environmental reviews and the necessary community engagement processes considerably lengthen project timelines. Additionally, the report notes the variability in application quality and responsiveness to agency comments. Regardless of the reason, the report notes that this kind of delay from application submission to approval will pose a major challenge to meeting New York’s goal of sourcing 70% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030.

While the legislation creating ORES instituted strict timelines for reviews, these timelines only kick in once an application has been deemed complete. Unsurprisingly, the delay results from the lengthy time between application submission and completeness, with ORES and applicants likely differing on the reasons for such prolonged timelines. One of the audit’s key recommendations is the implementation of a comprehensive tracking system that covers all timeline stages, from the receipt of initial applications to final permit issuance. This tracking system would provide a clearer understanding of the process duration, which could enhance planning and resource allocation.

The audit scrutinized 15 major renewable energy projects submitted during the review period, which included 14 solar projects and one wind energy project. Among these, 14 projects successfully received siting permits from ORES. On average, the process from the initial filing of the applications to the point where they were deemed complete took about three years. Following the completion of applications, it took an additional average of eight months for ORES to reach a final permitting decision. This duration, from the time an application was declared complete to the issuance of the permit, adheres to the statutory requirement stipulating that a final decision on siting permits be made within one year of the application’s completion. Thus, despite the lengthy overall timeline, the period from application completion to the permitting decision remains within the legal time frame set by legislation.

Insights from the audit also indicate that before ORES was established, the review of large renewable energy projects could take up to five years. So, this looks like modest improvement in permitting timelines, but far from sufficient for the state to meet its ambitious clean energy goals. Despite the creation of ORES, the early project planning and community engagement phases still account for a significant portion of the delays. The report notes that these early stages are essential to ensure that the development of renewable energy facilities aligns with the state’s climate targets without negatively impacting valuable resources or imposing burdens on local communities.

As noted, ORES’s role in New York’s clean energy transformation is expanding, with the recent passage of the Renewable Action Through Project Interconnection and Deployment (RAPID) Act, which expands ORES’s responsibilities and moves ORES from the Department of the State to the Department of Public Service (DPS) in an effort to streamline the permitting process and more effectively utilize the experience and expertise of the agency charged with oversight over electric corporations in the face of the fast-approaching deadlines mandated by the CLCPA. Through this organizational change, the act seeks to expedite the review and approval phases, thereby reducing delays and supporting the state’s aggressive renewable energy targets. It remains to be seen whether this integration will produce faster approvals resulting from more efficient environmental impact assessments while meetingcommunity needs.

As New York advances its ambitious clean energy transition, the state comptroller’s audit highlights the continued challenges in moving quickly when it comes to power generation and transmission siting. These are big projects that inevitably raise environmental and community concerns. It appears that the provisions allowing ORES to balance those impacts with the need for quick action to reach CLCPA goals are a work in progress, with the agency having trouble getting these projects permitted on a reasonable schedule. It was foreseeable that a new office created to address such an enormous challenge was likely to have growing pains. Perhaps the recent infusion of new staff at ORES, as well as the transfer of the office to the larger Department of Public Service, will free up additional resources to enable the office to get applications to completion more expeditiously. There is no question enhanced efficiency and transparency in the permitting process, as recommended in this report, are crucial to support the state’s climate objectives and stimulate economic growth through renewable energy development.

Photo of Steven C. Russo Steven C. Russo

Steven C. Russo chairs the firm’s New York Environmental Practice. He focuses his practice on environmental law and litigation, environmental permitting, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review, toxic tort litigation, environmental crimes, Brownfields redevelopment, government, energy and

Steven C. Russo chairs the firm’s New York Environmental Practice. He focuses his practice on environmental law and litigation, environmental permitting, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review, toxic tort litigation, environmental crimes, Brownfields redevelopment, government, energy and the environmental aspects of land use and real estate law. Steven is equally experienced litigating in federal and state courts, as well as counseling his clients with regard to environmental liability risk and due diligence, permitting, Brownfields, and impact assessment and review. He also practices election and campaign finance law.

Prior to joining the firm, Steven was the Chief Legal Officer of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. There, he supervised approximately 90 attorneys in Albany, as well as the agency’s nine regional offices. He also supervised the agency’s legislative affairs department and Office of Environmental Justice. At the agency, Steven initiated a reform of the state’s environmental review regulations and assessment forms, completed the issuance of new power plant siting regulations pertaining to environmental justice and carbon emissions and revised the agency’s environmental audit policy.

Steven also serves as election law counsel to a number of New York State and federal campaigns and political parties.

Photo of Jenna Rackerby ˘ Jenna Rackerby ˘

Jenna Rackerby ˘ is an Enviornmental Practice Law Clerk/JD based in Greenberg Traurig’s New York office.

˘ Not admitted to the practice of law.