Solar Environment in California
At a Glance
|Environmental Review Process:||Developers must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when undergoing projects in California. Power plants over 50 MW are subject to the California Energy Commission siting process in lieu of the CEQA process.|
|Environmental Review Agency:||California Department of Conservation|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Leasing Stage):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Non-invasive Exploration):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Invasive Exploration):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Drilling):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Power Plant Siting):||The California Energy Commission or a designated local county will conduct an environmental review process that replaces the California Environmental Policy Act process for power plants with a net generating capacity of over 50 MW.|
|Contacts/Agencies:||California Department of Conservation, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, State Historical Resources Commission, California Coastal Commission|
State Environment Process
Developers must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when undergoing projects in California. Under CEQA, every development permit is assigned a “lead agency” to coordinate the environmental review among all other state or local agencies. Some state agencies have developed their own environmental review processes in lieu of preparing Environmental Impact Reports (EIR). Developers may qualify for a categorical exemption outlined in 14 CRR §§ 15300-15333, or a statutory exemption outlined in 14 CRR §§ 15260-15285. The lead agency will conduct an initial survey to determine whether an environmental document must be prepared. If an environmental document is necessary, then the developer will be required to participate in one or more scoping meetings. The lead agency will develop Draft and Final Environmental Impact Reports, and respond to any public comments. Developers may continue with their project following issuance of a Final Environmental Impact Report and the approval of any required permits.
Cultural Resource Assessment
Developers must comply with requirements for designation of historical resources in California. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), part of the State Historical Resources Commission, oversees the program to identify, evaluate, register, and protect historical resources. Developers should contact the SHPO to determine if there are any listed historical resources within the proposed project’s site. In California, state cultural issues are considered during the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process. Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21002(b). While the CEQA lead agency is considering environmental impacts, any cultural considerations must be addressed. Developers typically retain an archaeologist and a historian to perform the analysis. The archaeologist and historian will conduct surveys to determine potential impacts of the project to cultural resources. Developers may be required to undertake mitigation measures to avoid negative impact to cultural resources.
Biological Resource Assessment Process
Developers must obtain an Incidental Take Permit from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) if their project will result in a “taking” of a California endangered or protected species. Under California law, “take” means to “hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill.” Section 86 of the Fish and Game Code. Developers must submit an Incidental Take Permit to CDFW for review. Developers may be required to undertake mitigation measures to avoid or lessen negative impacts on protected species.
Land Use Assessment
California has two particularized land use considerations developers must consider for renewable energy projects. First, projects that are located in or near a coastal zone as defined in the California Coastal Act, may require one or more coastal related permits. Second, projects on land under a Williamson Act or Farmland Security Zone contract may qualify for a solar-use easement.
Under the California Coastal Act, projects in California Coastal Zones may require one or more coastal related permits. The California Coastal Commission (CCC) is the governing agency for coastal zones. Management of coastal land is shared between the CCC and local city or county governments (collectively, “local authority”). The developer must submit an application for a Coastal Development Permit to either the local authority or the CCC. The relevant agency reviews the application and issues or denies the permit. No development within the coastal zone may proceed until the CCC or local government issues a Coastal Development Permit. See Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 30330.
Any federal agency activity or federal development project, taking place within or outside of a coastal zone, that will affect the land or water uses of a California coastal zone, must meet the requirements of the federal consistency provisions of the Coastal Zone Management Act. Thus, a project that may affect a California coastal zone must be consistent with the California Coastal Management Program (CCMP). A consistency determination is required for federal activities and development projects. The federal agency conducting the federal activity or development project will prepare the consistency determination for the CCC to review. For a project requiring a federal license or permit, the developer seeking the license or permit must apply to the CCC for a consistency certification. The federal agency responsible for issuing the license or permit may not issue the license or permit to the developer until the developer has received the consistency certification. 15 CFR § 930.
Privately owned land that is restricted in use because of a Williamson Act contract or a Farmland Security Zone contract may be eligible to rescind the contract and enter into a solar-use easement if certain conditions are met. The solar-use easement would require the land to be used for a solar photovoltaic (PV) facility for the term of 10 to 20 years. The California Government Code sets out the requirements that a parcel of land and the landowner must meet in order to be eligible to enter into a solar-use easement. The California Department of Conservation (DOC) has the authority to approve, in consultation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the rescission of the previous conservation contract and authorize the solar-use easement.
Water Resource Assessment
Developers may be required to obtain several permits related to water quality issues, including permits for nonpoint source pollution, NPDES permits, 401 water quality certification, and waste discharge permits.
Developers may be required to comply with a Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPS) Control Program if one has been developed by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) or a Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) for the activity proposed by the developer. Developers may choose to implement a project-specific NPS pollution control plan if the SWRCB or RWQCB NPS pollution control plans do not cover the developer’s project. Developers should contact the relevant SWRCB or RWQCB to determine the requirements for a project-specific NPS pollution control program. Any project-specific plan must be approved, and an on-site evaluation will be conducted to ensure effectiveness.
Developers must comply with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requirements if their project will discharge pollutants into the waters of the United States. California has been granted authority by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to administer the NPDES program within the state. In California, the NPDES permit program is implemented by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB). Developers may apply for coverage under a general NPDES permit, or may apply for an individual NPDES permit. A general NPDES permit covers multiple facilities within a specific category. An individual NPDES permit is specifically tailored to an individual proposed project for an effective period of no more than five years. Developers must submit an application for an individual NPDES permit to the relevant SWRCB or RWQCB for review. Following review, the complete application will be forwarded to the EPA for comments. The SWRCB or RWQCB will develop a draft permit and a final NPDES permit that also must be reviewed by the EPA. Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing.
Developers must obtain a 401 Water Quality Certification from California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) if their project implicates any federal license or permit issued to construct or operate a facility which may result in any fill or discharge into navigable waters of the United States. Developers must submit a Section 401 Water Quality Certification Application to the SWRCB, and notify the appropriate regional water quality control board. 23 CCR 3855. The regional board will make recommendations to SWRCB and inform of conditions necessary to ensure the activity will comply with water quality standards. SWRCB must publish notice of the application, and the developer may be required to participate in a public hearing.
Developers must obtain a Waste Discharge Permit from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) if their project involves the discharge of certain fluids. Whether a Waste Discharge Permit is required depends on the type of fluid discharged and the form of disposal. Developers must complete and submit a Report of Waste Discharge Application (Form 200) to RWQCB for review. Following review of the application, RWQCB may approve the discharge, waive waste discharge permit requirements, or prohibit the discharge. If RWQCB decides to issue a Waste Discharge Permit, then they will develop a draft permit, provide public notice, and allow for comment. Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing.
Waste and Hazardous Material Assessment Process
Developers must obtain a Hazardous Waste Permit from the California Environmental Protection Agency Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) if their project requires storage, treatment, or disposal of hazardous wastes. 22 CCR § 66270.1. In California, the permitting program imposes regulatory requirements matching the degree of risk posed by the level of hazardous waste. Developers will be required to obtain one of the following: Full Permit, Standardized Permit, or Onsite Treatment Permit. Developers must submit an application for a Hazardous Waste Permit to DTSC for review. DTSC will review the application for completeness and conduct an initial review. Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing.
Local Environment Process
Policies & Regulations
- ACE-II: Areas of Conservation Emphasis
- An Introduction to Electric Power Transmission
- CEQA Environmental Review
- CEQA and Historical Resources Technical Assistance
- CHAT: Crucial Habitat Assessment Tools
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife Consistency Determination Webpage
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife Environmental Review and Permitting Webpage
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Hydroelectric Projects
- California Desert Native Plants Act
- California Endangered Species Act
- California Endangered Species Act Species List
- California Environmental Quality Act
- California Lake and Streambed Alteration Program
- California Marine Life Protection Act
- California Native Plant Protection Act
- California Natural Community Conservation Plan Act
- California Nonpoint Source Program Strategy and Implementation Plan, 1998-2013
- California Permit Streamlining Act
- California Register
- California State Water Resources Control Board 401 Water Quality Certification Website
- California Waste Discharge Requirements Website
- Electric Transmission Siting at the California PUC
- Environmental Recommendations for Transmission Planning
- Friends of Sierra Madre v. City of Sierra Madre, 25 Cal. 4th 165 (2000)
- Full Permit Application Handbook
- Hazardous Waste Facility Permit Fact Sheet
- Memorandum of Understanding 2011
- Memorandum of Understanding 2013
- NEPA and CEQA: Integrating Federal and State Environmental Reviews
- NPDES Questions & Answers
- NPS Pollution Control Program
- NPS Pollution Control Program Fact Sheet
- NPS Quick Reference Guide
- Permit by Rule Guide
- Proponent’s Environmental Assessment (PEA) Checklist for Transmission Line and Substation Projects
- Regional Water Board NPDES Program Manager
- Regional Water Quality Control Boards
- Report of Waste Discharge application (Form 200)
- Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
- SWRCB General NPDES Permits
- Standardized Permit Guidance
- State Clearinghouse Handbook
- Testing the Effectiveness of an Avian Flight Diverter for Reducing Avian Collissions with Distribution Power Lines in the Sacramento Valley, California