New York state is moving to add an Office of Renewable Energy Permitting to ease the approval process for new renewables projects in the state, under a proposal outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Recently passed legislation requires New York to add 6 gigawatts of solar by 2025 and 3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2030 to help the state reach a zero-carbon electricity mix by 2040. The governor’s office said the new agency would “ensure permitting decisions are predictable, responsible and delivered on pace” for the state to reach those goals.

The governor’s office said the proposal, which will take the form of legislation, would “dramatically” speed permitting and “create modernized standards for developing renewable energy projects at an expedited pace to meet the urgency of the climate crisis.” Finished applications would move through the process in under one year.

New York has already installed 2 gigawatts of solar and allocated $2.9 billion over the last two years to 46 solar and onshore wind projects. But permitting remains a persistent “pain point” for solar projects across the country, according to Molly Cox, a solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. That’s in part because permitting was originally designed to aid a system reliant on fossil fuels — which New York is pulling away from — as well as wide differences in project variables.

“Permitting costs are dependent on many factors such as the location of the project…as well as the [authority having jurisdiction] or even the type of land being utilized, such as a closed landfill versus more usable land,” said Cox.

“As a result, permitting costs vary a lot, but any unexpected delay can increase costs and affect the bottom line of an [engineering, procurement and construction provider] or developer.”

The same is true for storage, with developers reporting permitting timelines ranging from one to two years. Even with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the New York City Fire Department and the New York City Department of Buildings collaborating on fixes, permitting has presented a “major hurdle” for battery projects in New York City in particular.

“This creates major downside risk for the market, as customer needs and market rules can shift, which might cause a project to no longer pencil” out economically, said Brett Simon, a senior storage analyst at WoodMac. “The extra time and financial costs from permitting can lead to even further damage to a project’s economic viability.”

Wind development has also been hampered by New York’s permitting regime, although much of the state’s future wind market will be offshore.

Unsurprisingly, the developer community met Governor Cuomo’s proposal with plaudits, asserting the plan will help the state execute on its ambitious mandates.

“A more sensible permitting process that still retains all the environmental protections is sorely needed,” said Anne Reynolds, executive director at the Alliance for Clean Energy NY, a member organization that represents developers, environmental organizations and other pro-clean-energy groups, in a statement.

Cuomo put forth the proposal as a 30-day budget amendment that must be adopted by the legislature to proceed. In addition to creating the new office, which would be placed under the Department of Economic Development, the governor proposed incentives for communities where large renewables projects are located and a program that would work on build-ready sites for renewables development.  

The proposal also aims to improve siting and development of transmission to transport renewable electricity, compelling a study by NYSERDA on possible upgrades and creating a “local transmission system capital program” for each utility in need of grid updates.