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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

California Solar Power Plant Siting, Construction, & Regulation(7-CA)

In California, developers of solar thermal power generating facilities must obtain siting approval. Developers who qualify as “public utilities” will also be required to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.

Developers of solar thermal power generating facilities must obtain licensing from the California Energy Commission (CEC) for construction of a power plant with a net generating capacity of 50 MW or more and all related facilities dedicated or essential to the operation of the thermal power plant (e.g., transmission lines to first point of interconnection with the transmission grid, water lines, access roads, etc.). Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants are “thermal” power plants and must go through the CEC process if they are over 50 MW. Photovoltaic (PV) solar facilities are not “thermal” power plants and do not need to obtain a permit from the CEC.

Developers who are constructing a solar thermal power generating facility over 50 MW must submit an Application for Certification (AFC) to the CEC for review. Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 25522. As part of the AFC process, the CEC conducts an environmental review in in lieu of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEC will issue an Identification Report following review of the application, and may request further information from the developer. CEC will issue a draft permit, and developers may be required to participate in a public hearing. Developers may begin construction of the thermal power plant following issuance of a Siting Permit by the CEC.

Developers may obtain a Small Power Plant Exemption (SPPE) for their solar thermal power generating facility between 50 MW and 100MW from the California Energy Commission (CEC). The SPPE is an exemption from the licensing process and is not a permit or license to build the power plant. Developers must obtain all necessary local, state, and federal permits in addition to meeting the requirements of the SPPE process. Developers must submit an Application for Small Power Plant Exemption for review. The CEC will conduct reviews of the thermal power plant to ensure that it will not create any adverse impacts on the environment or energy resources during its construction or operation. If the CEC approves the SPPE, then the developer may build the thermal power plant without completing the Application for Certification.

If the developer will complete the AFC process for a CSP facility on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the project will also be subject to the BLM’s siting process. In an attempt to avoid overlap of the environmental review process and streamline proposed power plant projects in California, the BLM and the CEC signed a Memorandum of Understanding which delegates certain responsibilities to each agency. All information gathered during the combined siting process is shared between the BLM and CEC and both agencies will coordinate with each other during the entire process, not just the environmental review phase. If the proposed project meets all of the joint siting process requirements, the developer will receive a right-of-way from the BLM as well as a siting permit from the CEC.

All power plants over 50 MW in California must obtain a CPCN from the PUC . When subject to the AFC process, developers must complete the AFC siting process before the PUC can issue a CPCN. However, the AFC siting process and the PUC CPCN process may take place simultaneously. Developers must submit an Application for a CPCN to the CPUC for review. Developers will also be required to submit copies of their Notice of Intent filing by the CEC, the Application for Certification, and the CEC’s Final Report on the NOI proceedings to the CPUC. Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing on the application.

Developers who are constructing PV facilities that are over 50 MW must submit an Application for a CPCN to the CPUC for review. The CPUC will conduct an initial environmental study to determine whether the project will have a significant effect on the environment. Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing on the application.

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Determine Which State and Federal Permits Apply

Use this overview flowchart and following steps to learn which federal and state permits apply to your projects.

Permitting at a Glance

California Federal

Power Plant Siting: Developers must obtain licensing from the California Energy Commission (CEC) for construction of a thermal power plant with a net generating capacity of 50 MW or more and all related facilities dedicated or essential to the operation of the thermal power plant (e.g., transmission lines to first point of interconnection with the transmission grid, gas pipelines, water lines, access roads, etc.). The CEC may delegate siting authority over geothermal power plants and related facilities to county governments which have adopted geothermal elements into their general plants. The county must demonstrate a capability to expeditiously process applications, and their policies must be consistent with CEC’s policies for the development of geothermal resources. Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 25540.5.
Power Plant Siting Agency: California Energy Commission
Power Plant Siting MW Threshold: 50 MW net generating capacity
Definition for Public Utility: “Public utilities” includes an “electric corporation…where the service is performed for, or commodity is delivered to, the public or any portion thereof.” Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 216. An “electric corporation” includes “every corporation or person owning, controlling, operating, or managing any electric plant for compensation within this state, except where electricity is generated on or distributed by the producer through private property solely for its own use or the use of its tenants and not for sale or transmission to others.” Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 218.
Public Utility Regulatory Authority: California Public Utilities Commission

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