In order to implement the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (Climate Act) New York must support “unprecedented levels of investment in new generation”. This post addresses the duplicity of the members of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York (ACE NY) who have organized a campaign to send letters supporting agrivoltaics to the legislators at the same time they are covering swaths of prime farmland with solar panels.
I have been following the Climate Act since it was first proposed. I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 300 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
Climate Act Background
The Climate Act established a New York “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050 and an interim 2030 target of a 40% reduction by 2030. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that outlines how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.” In brief, that plan is to electrify everything possible and power the electric grid with zero-emissions generating resources by 2040. The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the electrification strategies. That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan. After a year-long review the Scoping Plan recommendations were finalized at the end of 2022. In 2023 the Scoping Plan recommendations are supposed to be implemented through regulation and legislation.
One of the more serious problems with the Hochul Administration net-zero transition is that there is no implementation plan. The “unprecedented levels of investment in new generation” includes between 14,731 MW (New York State Independent System Operator 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook) and 18,852 MW (Integration Analysis) of solar development by 2030. One example of the lack of a plan is that the Integration Analysis projection presumes that the utility-scale solar development will use tracking solar panels with a capacity factor of 20%. However, most permitted New York solar developments are using fixed solar panels with lower capacity factors because there is no mandate that they use the more expensive technology. That means that the projection of 18,852 MW is low. I believe a proper implementation plan would include limitations to protect prime farmland from solar development.
The Alliance for Clean Energy New York (ACE
NY) mission is to “promote the use of clean, renewable electricity technologies and energy efficiency in New York State, in order to increase energy diversity and security, boost economic development, improve public health, and reduce air pollution”. ACE NY members are “a mix of private companies and non-profit organizations”. It is a well-connected lobbying organization for the crony capitalist grifters who are building the renewables required by the Climate Act. Of the 16 organizations on the Board of Directors, six are non-governmental organizations (two based in New York) and of the remaining ten companies only one (Sealed, an insulation and HVAC company that partners with New York utilities) is a New York based company. The rest are out of state developers who will bear no repercussions when the affordability and reliability of the New York electric system tanks.
The ACE NY 2023 priorities for large-scale, grid-connected renewables defines their agenda. It includes the following:
- Continued NYSERDA competitive procurement program, on schedule, under the Clean Energy Standard, to contract for renewable energy at a pace that will achieve 70% renewable electricity by 2030, with a fair and transparent evaluation process for bids, reasonable contract requirements, and contract amendments when necessary.
- Solid progress on transmission, including Public Service Commission (PSC) approval of local and bulk transmission system upgrades, designation of a public policy transmission need (PPTN) upstate, New York Power Authority contributions to transmission upgrades, selection of a transmission solution for the Long Island Offshore Wind Export PPTN, and decision-making around other transmission needs to enable offshore wind development.
- For offshore wind project development, the announcement of one or more new contracts, paired with state port and supply chain investments, and the issuance of a 2023 offshore wind solicitation.
- An efficient and timely interconnection process at the NYISO, including a Class Year that takes one year and significant reforms and improvements to the process.
- NYISO rules that are fair and favorable for renewables, such as capacity market rules that don’t disadvantage renewable energy or storage.
- Efficient permitting, as evidenced by steady progress by the Office of Renewable Energy Siting. Our goal is to allow responsible developers to move steadily and predictably through the process in a timely manner, so that there is a healthy pipeline of diverse projects. Also, improvements to the species impact mitigation process.
- The continued ability of solar developers to lease land from farmers to host the solar projects NY needs to achieve its clean energy and climate goals, plus advancement of co-located solar and agriculture to demonstrate emerging approaches to both.
- A significant cohort of wind and solar projects successfully reaching the construction phase during 2023 and becoming operational.
- For offshore wind planning, the establishment of a goal of 15 GW of offshore wind by 2040 and 20 GW by 2050, plus the issuance of an Offshore Wind Power Master Plan 2.0 that includes a roadmap for offshore wind power development in the deep ocean.
- Standardized and fair taxation of wind and solar projects at the local level, and elimination of unfair renewable energy bans and moratoria at the local level.
- A successful competitive Tier 2 program to support renewable resources built before 2015, or another means of support for these projects, plus rules that enable and encourage renewables repowering.
- Reasonable requirements for decommissioning projects and avoidance of end-of-life disposal requirements that vary from town-to-town. Support for the development of solar panel recycling facilities in New York.
- New York state pursuit of an economy-wide carbon cap-and-invest policy.
This list of priorities boils down to build as much as possible as fast possible with as few restrictions as we can get away with. “Efficient” permitting is a euphemism for let us do whatever we want with as few restrictions as possible. There is a mention of improvements to “species impact mitigation process”. In other words, some member’s project got slowed down because the rules that have applied to electric generation development to protect the environment and wildlife prior to the Climate Act have not been changed fast enough. There is another priority to eliminate “unfair renewable energy bans and moratoria on the local level”. That translates to the State has not over turned home rule enough to suit us.
ACE NY Agrivoltaics Letter to Legislators
The ACE NY website has a section “Support Agrivoltaics in New York State” that provides a way to send a form letter to legislators supporting agrivoltaics:
As New Yorkers, we believe that solar energy and farming can exist alongside one another, and each industry can help to bolster the other in meaningful ways while also supporting individual farmers and their communities.
The benefits of agrivoltaics are abundant. They include:
- A new, stable income source for farmers, to keep NY farmers in farming;
- Protection and conservation of soil with a reversable use of land;
- New tax revenue for communities that host solar projects; and
- Opportunities to host solar projects and produce more clean electricity;
SEND A LETTER TO YOUR LEGISLATORS SUPPORTING AGRIVOLTAICS
Please let your legislators know you support agrivoltaics in New York state. New York farmers should be able to host solar installations, if they choose to, and get income to help their farms.
For starters note that the description “as New Yorkers” does not apply to any of the development companies on the Board of Directors so take their beliefs with a grain of salt. None of them will be affected when New York farming is adversely affected. The stable income applies to the farmers who no longer want to farm. It will raise prices for those who choose to continue to farm. One of the stories perpetuated by the developers is that the solar developments are only temporary. The reality is that we will continue to need the solar power so it beggars the mind why one can argue that these facilities won’t be re-developed with new panels when the developments reach the end of their useful life. The next section discusses the status of New York solar development and belies the claims that ACE NY members care about New York agriculture.
New York Solar Development
I have written multiple articles about solar development and impacts to the agricultural sector in New York. In my opinion the State should provide a plan for responsible siting for all solar facilities. There is a policy option roadmap for the proposed 10 GW of distributed solar development. However, there is not an equivalent set of policies for utility-scale solar development. Given the magnitude of the potential impacts to prime farmland I submitted a comment to the Climate Action Council recommending that they impose a moratorium on the development of utility-scale solar projects until permitting requirements have been established for responsible solar siting and protection of prime farmlands. Not surprisingly there has never been any response.
I described a workshop “What’s the Deal with Renewable Energy & Agriculture?” co-hosted by New Yorkers for Clean Power (NYCP) and Alliance for Clean Energy NY (ACENY) that discussed the compatibility of solar energy development and agriculture in New York State late last year. In my opinion, all the speakers were advocating responsible solar development that minimizes the use of the best agricultural farmland soils. Whatever your position is with respect to the industrial solar development that to me is a key requirement. If a project meets all the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (Ag and Markets) guidelines and the Office of Renewable Energy Siting requirements then, given the current state law mandating massive buildouts of solar energy, the application should be approved. The problem is that many of the recently permitted solar facilities do not meet that criterion.
In particulate, I think it is very unfortunate that Department of Agriculture and Markets guidelines to protect prime farmland are ignored. The guidelines have been described in prepared testimony by Michael Saviola from the Department of Agriculture and Markets that I believe represent best practices and should be mandatory. In particular, “The Department’s goal is for projects to limit the conversion of agricultural areas within the Project Areas, to no more than 10% of soils classified by the Department’s NYS Agricultural Land Classification mineral soil groups 1-4, generally Prime Farmland soils, which represent the State’s most productive farmland.” I think this is a reasonable goal and one that should be a mandatory requirement for all projects.
I have started tracking the loss of prime farmland and the ramifications of not enforcing those guidelines. The following table lists approved solar projects and my estimates of the loss of prime farmland. Of the 15 recently approved projects listed only five meet the farmland conversion guidelines of the Department of Agriculture and Markets as of May 21, 2023.
As noted previously there is no implementation plan. On December 12, 2022 Governor Hochul announced that “a special working group of state agencies and agricultural community stakeholders will collaborate to support New York farmers and help boost the agricultural industry” that could be a start. The press release stated that “This working group will be critical to tackling several challenges within New York’s agricultural industry, and my administration will continue to work with farmers to address their needs and reimagine farming in our state.” Searching for any follow up to the announcement five months later yielded no results. While the Hochul Administration fiddles time away the loss of prime farmland continues.
The New York Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) approved Hecate Energy’s permit for the 500-megawatt (MW) Cider Solar Farm on July 25, 2022. My article on the project explained that the Cider Solar Farm will be a 500-megawatt photovoltaic solar facility capable of supplying 920,000 MWh (21% capacity factor) located in the towns of Elba and East Oakfield, Genesee County, NY. Right in line with the ACE NY 2023 priorities, ORES over-ruled the Towns of Elba and Oakfield zoning ordinances that were “unreasonably burdensome” for the developer. The 4,650 acre Project Site is 41% Prime Farmland (1,912 acres) and another 27% (1,252 acres) would be Prime Farmland if drained. Until such time that the state develops responsible solar siting mandates that protect prime farmland consistent with the Department of Agriculture and Markets solar siting guidelines projects like this that removes 3,163 acres of prime farmland (68% of the project site!) from production will continue to be built.
The ACE NY letter writing campaign in support of agrivoltaics suggests that ACE NY members care about the New York agricultural sector. In reality, it is a public relations gesture. If ACE NY members truly cared about New York farmers then they should be developing projects that meet the Department of Agriculture and Markets solar siting guidelines and incorporating agrivoltaics in their projects. As noted, the guidelines can be met but most projects don’t bother to meet them. Agrivoltaics have been mentioned in some of the permit applications that I have read but it is usually an afterthought or promise to consider it in the future. I have never seen it included as a permit condition commitment.