10 or 94? Ridge View Solar developer undecided

Siting of a small solar array like this one off Feigle Road in Pendleton is regulated by the town, whereas decisions about the placement of utility-scale energy generation facilities are made by the newly created New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting. (James Neiss/staff photographer)

EDF Renewables, the solar energy company that proposed development of the Ridge View Solar Center in the towns of Hartland and Newfane, has successfully switched the state siting process for its Morris Ridge project in Livingston County, and is awaiting approval to have two other projects vetted under "Article 94" rules instead of Article 10 rules.

Ridge View is not one of the two, EDF Renewables spokesman Kevin Campbell said this week. But, that doesn't mean the company has ruled out "transitioning" the project to Article 94 review.

Section 94-c of the New York Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act of 2020 put decisions about the siting of large scale energy generation facilities — 25 megawatts or more — in the hands of the newly created state Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES). Prior to that law going into effect, siting decisions were up to a state-appointed siting board that included two local representatives of a project's host community. That way of siting was known as the Article 10 process.

EDF Renewables got the ball rolling on Ridge View Solar Center, a 350 megawatt project dotted around a 2,500-acre area, in 2019, under the Article 10 process, and the new siting law allows the company to convert to the Article 94 process, which critics suggest will be less difficult for developers.

“There is a possibility that Ridge View would also transition to Section 94-c,” Campbell said. “We have not committed to transitioning Ridge View at this point in time.”

Advocates of “home rule,” including town supervisors Ross Annable in Hartland and Tim Horanburg in Newfane, have criticized Article 94 for stripping the rights of local municipalities in the siting of utilities.

“We made a resolution to oppose Article 94 because it took away home rule review and we didn’t like the idea of not having a (local) person, at least, on the siting board,” Annable said.

The Ridge View Solar Center timeline starts in the spring of 2019, when EDF began signing leases with interested landowners. The company hosted two public meetings, in August and November of 2019, and in December 2019 it submitted a Project Involvement Program Plan under Article 10. The company hosted meetings with first responders, to discuss energy storage (batteries), in February 2020, and soon after that the project was put into limbo by the COVID-19 pandemic. EDF decided to wait another year before proceeding further, Campbell said.

Autumn 2020 would have been the time for EDF to apply for siting approval under either article, according to Annable.

“They did not apply for a permit and they told me they were not going to," he said. "Between Covid and the new Article 94 and wanting to have all their ducks in a row ... they were not going to file for this last cycle. They were studying the Article 94 to see how that played out compared to Article 10. That was the last conversation we had, they weren’t sure of which way they were going to go.”

If the project were to switch, Campbell said its application would be submitted to ORES in late 2022 and municipal and public review hearings would follow in 2023.

“Transparency is a core value at EDF Renewables, and within either permitting process, we will continue to communicate our plans to our host communities and seek their feedback,” Campbell said. “Across each of our projects, EDF Renewables consistently encourages, supports and relies on robust local engagement.”

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