Permitting of renewable generation facilities can be complex, long, and uncertain. Renewable generation facilities must receive a site permit in order to construct a project. The type of permit needed depends on three factors: a) technology type, b) project size and c) project location. The California Energy Commission is responsible for approving permits for thermal power plants 50 MW and greater. All other projects must receive a county or city permit. Projects on federal land must also receive permits from the appropriate federal agencies – usually the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the United States Forest Service (USFS). Most renewable facilities must seek a permit from a federal agency since many of the best solar, wind, and geothermal resource sites are on federal land.
- Problem: Environmental permitting of new renewable projects poses a major challenge given the sensitive nature of the large areas of land needed to reach a 33% RPS with utility-scale renewables. Public agencies responsible for environmental permitting of power plants at the county, state, and federal levels have been inundated with applications for new renewable generation facilities. For example, the BLM is currently reviewing 176 wind and solar permit applications that cover 1.3 million acres of land. The California Energy Commission has also received 5 applications to permit solar thermal projects over 50 MW in size, which are currently under review.
- Solution: In August 2007, the California Energy Commission and the BLM entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in order to conduct a joint environmental review of renewable projects that fall under both of their jurisdictions. The BLM has also launched a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) assessing utility-scale solar energy development on BLM-administered lands. Such initiatives are the first steps towards streamlining the permit review process.
- In November 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-14-08 to remove the red tape surrounding the permitting of renewable projects. To streamline the application process for renewable energy development, the CA Energy Commission and Department of Fish and Game will create a "one-stop" permitting process with the goal of reducing the application time for specific projects in half. This will be achieved through the creation of a special joint streamlining unit that will concurrently review permit applications filed at the state level.