- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) adopted a rulemaking package that will streamline the environmental review process, according to a statement last week from DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.
- The new rules clarify that no additional assessment is needed to construct solar arrays in zones that have already been impacted by human presence, such as landfills or cleaned-up brownfields. They also remove threshholds that would have made nonresidential rooftop solar installations subject to an environmental review process.
- New York aims to reach 50% renewable energy by 2030. The DEC's effort to streamline project reviews can be expected to ease some types of commercial solar installations, boosting the state's goals.
The first major update to the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) regulations in more than two decades provides assurances to commercial solar installers that they won't need to prepare for a formal assessment of environmental impacts in certain types of projects.
The updates to the list of projects that won't require further scrutiny are set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2019. They will clear solar projects to proceed without environmental reviews when the installations are utilizing unwanted or unused space, such as projects located at landfills, brownfields, wastewater treatment facilities, residential or commercial parking garages or other locations.
The SEQR guide for applications for an environmental assessment were difficult enough that in 2017 the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) published guidance for local governments that are applying the process to approve large-scale solar energy systems.
NYSERDA's document outlined when a solar facility may be subject to an environmental review. Previously, this additional regulatory burden could come into play if a nonresidential structure or facility seeking to develop a rooftop solar project was large enough (more than 4,000 square feet). A large department store that wanted to put a solar array on its roof could trigger an environmental review.
But the new regulations will waive the need for further environmental review for the "installation of solar arrays on an existing structure not listed on the National or State Register of Historic Places," regardless of the size of the structure.