For decades, major electric transmission siting and permitting in New York has been governed by Article VII of the Public Service Law, which prescribes the process for submitting an application to the Public Service Commission (PSC) to site, construct, operate and maintain electric transmission lines. Though it has been amended over the years, it, frustratingly, never provided a timeline for application review or approval. Because of this, it took years for some projects to get started, while others were simply abandoned.

With New York’s Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act, enacted on April 1, 2020, transmission line siting is about to change.

The main purpose of the act, which applies to electric facilities only, is to help New York meet its aggressive clean energy goals, including a carbon-free electric system by 2040. Most of its provisions relate to siting and buildout of renewable energy generation facilities as well as how renewable energy is injected into New York’s grid via bulk and local transmission and distribution. Aside from renewables, this act also affects how all transmission will be sited and permitted in the state moving forward.

Major changes to the Article VII transmission siting process include:

  • A One-Year Timeline for Review
    Previously, Article VII applications for high-voltage transmission lines had no requirements for review and approval or denial within a defined time frame. While many projects received approval within as little as 12-18 months, some waited years for approval, and some never received it at all. This resulted in a lot of unknowns not only for the project developer but also the public and neighboring landowners who could be impacted by a project.

    With the passing of this act, the Article VII application review and approval process will be accelerated. The PSC must issue a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need within one year of an application being deemed complete — compliant with the Public Service Law requirements. While there are requirements for when that timeline must be extended, including an additional six months for developing an adequate record on points of public interest, this is a major step forward for the timely review of transmission line projects. However, it should be noted that the act and its provisions don’t apply to the application review and approval process of a project’s Environmental Management and Construction Plan.

  • Capital Plan for Utility Local Transmission and Distribution
    To advance the goals of the act, the PSC is required to start a proceeding that will establish a capital plan for utilities to identify and prioritize local transmission and distribution projects. This capital plan will include a priority schedule for the utility to complete the projects. The Long Island Power Authority also will need to establish a capital plan concurrently with this requirement.

    This capital plan requirement is an update to the New York Energy Highway Blueprint, an initiative by New York utilities to identify critical upgrades to New York’s aging power grid. While some projects outlined within that 2012 plan are underway, others have stalled or haven’t been initiated at all. The act will bolster continued investment in electric infrastructure while supporting clean energy.

  • NYPA’s Priority Transmission Projects
    New York will turn to the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to develop major transmission line projects that can help inject and move renewable power into the grid. The focus will be on priority projects to improve New York’s bulk power grid and will either be led by NYPA or developed in a partnership model with developers. If a priority project is identified outside of NYPA’s existing right-of-way corridors, a competitive bidding process among private sector participants is required.  

Evaluation of the above provisions, as well as others listed within the act, will be reviewed no later than Jan. 1, 2023, and then every four years after that to see to it that these actions are meeting their intended purposes. The act is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2030.

During the next few years, the act should bring about major changes for both private electric transmission developers and utilities. These changes will accelerate schedules, requiring a coordinated and detailed project management approach to deliver on clean energy goals.

 

High-voltage transmission line projects present a host of challenges wherever they are constructed. In New York state, those challenges can be compounded by the permitting requirements outlined in Article VII. Learn how a diverse, experienced team can streamline the process as well as clarify the new act’s provisions.

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by
New York native Nicole Marron, a public involvement specialist at Burns & McDonnell for the past six years, supports utility clients in permitting and constructing Article VII transmission projects. She also works with clients on project outreach planning and execution, including external communications with local municipalities and residents.