Governor Brown is expected to sign SBX1-2, which increases California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 33% by 2020. With enactment of the bill, California will have the most aggressive renewable energy policy in the country. Details about the new legislation can be found in the Stoel Rives alert authored by Seth Hilton at: http://www.stoel.com/showalert.aspx?show=7805.
In California, expect the pressure to develop new renewable energy projects to continue to grow, as utilities work toward meeting the RPS requirements. The past few years have seen a significant rise in proposed wind and solar projects throughout the state, and regulatory agencies are struggling to keep up with the review and approval process to allow these projects to move forward. One of the biggest impediments to new projects is the permitting process, which varies depending on the technology proposed and the size of the project. Some projects qualify for the streamlined, one-stop shop permitting process at the California Energy Commission, but many renewable projects will be permitted by the local jurisdiction where the project is located. These local jurisdictions are already faced with diminishing resources and cuts in staffing that impede project processing timelines. The increased RPS may simply exacerbate this problem.
On the upside, the pressure to meet such an aggressive RPS by 2020 may also provide opportunity for further streamlining and expediting the approval process for projects that count toward the RPS. The California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management, in coordination with other state and federal agencies, have been pursuing policies and programs to facilitate streamlined review and approval of renewable projects. Those policies and programs will take time to establish, but once in place should provide expedited opportunities for project approvals. Perhaps more challenging is the local permitting process. In Kern County, one of the most desirable California counties for both wind and solar projects, there are over 30 pending applications for solar projects and approximately 10 pending applications for wind projects. Kern County staff has indicated that, generally speaking, the timelines for processing permits for new solar project applications is at least 18 months, maybe longer. But Kern County, and other counties in California, are exploring opportunities to streamline environmental review and looking at options such as use of programmatic environmental impact reports (EIR) to help facilitate faster permitting of projects. Kern County has gone as far as approving a resolution to support legislation that would exempt renewable energy projects within a programmatic EIR from challenges under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
With new challenges come new opportunities, and the 33% RPS certainly brings new opportunities to find ways to expedite the permit process for qualifying renewable energy projects.