CANTON — As New York pushes to meet renewable energy targets set by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a proposed 240-megawatt solar project in the town of Canton is forging ahead with a plan to be operational by 2025.
The first non-mandatory public meeting about the Rich Road Solar Energy Center was held at the Best Western University Inn on Thursday night as an informal open house with representatives from EDF Renewables. The company intended to host the project’s first open house last summer, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the forum until this year.
A subsidiary of the French utility company EDF, the San Diego-based EDF Renewables has developed wind and solar projects for 35 years across North America. In New York, one large-scale EDF Renewables project is online: Lewis County’s Copenhagen Wind Farm became operational in 2018 after a 12-year planning and siting process. A dozen other EDF Renewables projects, including Canton’s proposed facility and the Tracy Solar Energy Center in Jefferson County, are in the works at varying stages.
Rich Road Solar is just beginning to ascend the steep staircase that leads to construction and operation. Every step represents a calculated regulatory component of state law, and is trackable through the Department of Public Service’s online repository for project documentation.
As of Friday, nine documents related to the Rich Road Solar proposal have been filed. By the time the project’s application is submitted to the state — EDF Renewables expects to be ready to apply by the end of 2022 — a triple-digit number of records should be added.
Rich Road Solar’s current plan covers about 1,500 acres with 240 megawatts of energy production capacity and up to 20 megawatts of storage.
More than 30 parcels owned by nine land owners have so far been leased for the project. The parcels are situated just beyond the southwestern boundary of the village along both sides of Route 11, from Jingleville Road north to Irish Settlement Road. The east-west area is bounded by parcels along Miner Street Road and O’Horo Road.
The transmission project first involves rebuilding 78 miles of the north-south line that connects St. Lawrence and Lewis counties. The Moses-Adirondack line, erected by the federal government in 1942, starts in Massena and carries electricity from the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project south to the Adirondack Substation in Croghan. Phase two involves rebuilding another 8 miles of existing steel structures and upgrading the switchyard in Massena and the substation in Croghan. Phase one construction is slated for completion in 2023.
Before the Rich Road Solar project’s substation can tap into the new NYPA lines, which cut through the southern portion of the project boundary, a series of studies and surveys must be conducted. EDF Renewables is required to coordinate with state environmental, agriculture, history and transportation agencies, as well as the St. Lawrence County Planning Office, the county Soil and Water Conservation District and Canton planners.
Studies must assess: acoustics and noise pollution during construction and for operation; site visuals, especially along the roads that branch through the project area; archaeology; wetlands and wildlife habitat; rare, endangered and threatened species; stormwater management; and decommissioning, which marks the end of the facility’s life in about 35 years.
Some explorations have started, with more field and aerial surveys planned for the fall and civil engineering work scheduled over the winter. Next year, preliminary results will determine whether additional studies are warranted, and a permit application could be submitted as early as September 2022. Pending a permit approval, construction could begin in late 2023 and extend through 2025.
Temporary jobs — roughly 250 at the peak of construction — would last an average of 12 months, staggered at different stages of the total 18- to 24-month building period. An estimated four full-time local positions would open up during operation.
For now, the project is only taking visual shape as shaded parcels overlayed on an aerial map. Questions raised by Canton Town Council this month about the project’s impact on prime agricultural soils, the Upper and Lower Lakes Wildlife Management Area and engineering concerns, among other things, have yet to be answered by EDF Renewables.
Prior to the enactment of the Power NY Act in 2011, proposed electric generating facilities were required to move through several state and local permitting processes. Under Power NY, new facilities proposing to generate at least 25 megawatts of power became subject to a consolidated process managed by the state Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment.
The consolidation, called Article 10 based on its Public Service Law numeration, required developers to check off permitting boxes, conduct mandatory local studies and host public hearings in a pre-application process. The process culminated in an application and the state Public Service Commission deciding — or not — to issue a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need. Even with approval, the post-certification phase prescribes ongoing compliance.
A decade later, the process has shifted again, with the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act passed in 2020. The law created a new siting process specifically designed for renewable energy facilities to support the state’s goals outlined in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or Climate Act.
Several state programs overlap to advance the Climate Act benchmarks, which were first announced in 2018 by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The Climate Act requires the state to maintain a capacity of 1,500 megawatts of energy storage by 2025, and 3,000 megawatts of energy storage and 70% renewable energy by 2030. It requires a zero-emissions electric grid by 2040 and an 85% emissions reduction from all sectors by 2050.
One arm of the multi-layer attempt to accelerate progress is the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s annual Renewable Energy Standard initiative. The RES is part of NYSERDA’s Clean Energy Standard, a program aiming for a low-carbon statewide energy system in line with the Climate Act. Since 2017, NYSERDA has contracted 88 projects with developers, who sell energy credits from renewable energy revenue to the state.
EDF Renewables is bidding Rich Road Solar for the fifth round of RES procurements. Bids are due in August, and awards are usually announced in November.
The new siting process for moving all large-scale renewable energy projects forward took effect March 3. Called 94-c based on its section of Executive Law, the process truncates the approval timeframe to one year or less once an application is complete. Though years of planning — from the first required document filing to construction — is still a standard expectation, the new pathway is designed to expedite the more lengthy Article 10 procedure.
The Office of Renewable Energy Siting, ORES, was established exclusively to oversee the 94-c process and now handles all new construction and expansion proposals. Developers with projects already being processed through Article 10 prior to March 3 could choose to opt in. Rich Road Solar began as an Article 10 project in 2019, and transitioned to 94-c this year.
The Article 10 queue, last updated on July 2, lists a total of 58 solar, wind, gas and waste-to-energy projects from multiple developers. Of that total, 17 projects have requested to transfer to the 94-c process. ORES is now reviewing five transferred applications, including one for the 120-megawatt Greens Corners Solar project in the towns of Hounsfield and Watertown. A sixth application under review was filed in June for a 500-megawatt facility — the largest ever in the state — north of Batavia in Genesee County.
Both Rich Road Solar and Tracy Solar, a 119-megawatt facility proposed in the towns of Clayton and Orleans, are still in EDF Renewables’ pre-application phase.
Projects also need to adhere to a municipality’s regulations or file a state waiver for certain disputes, depending on the scenario. In Canton’s case, two local laws were passed over a three-year period in preparation for negotiations with potential renewable energy developers.
Earlier this month, the town passed an energy storage law complementary to its solar law, passed in 2019. The laws are based on model regulations authored by NYSERDA. Moratoriums on commercial development of solar and energy storage systems were in place prior to each law being passed, so municipal planning officials and legal counsel had time to adapt the NYSERDA framework before large-scale energy companies could proceed.
Additional Rich Road Solar open houses are expected as more components of the project come together.