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California Bulk Transmission Siting & Regulation(8-CA)

Electrical transmission in California falls under the jurisdiction of three entities: The CPUC, which determines need and is responsible for siting new facilities; CEC, which addresses policy and forecasting in biennial reports, has jurisdiction over establishing new transmission corridors in the state and which licenses thermal power plants over 50 MW; and the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which annually plans transmission upgrades for and operates as the balancing authority for more than 80% of the California grid. CAISO is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and carries out its activities in close collaboration with the CPUC and CEC.

As part of the Western Interconnection, additions and connections to the electrical grid in California are planned as part of the WestConnect and CAISO regional planning entities that were established under FERC Order 1000. CAISO is the West’s only Independent System Operator and collaboratively plans and has responsibility for operating the grid for the state’s investor owned and FERC jurisdictional entities. California publicly owned utilities are organized in WestConnect for regional and interregional planning and cost allocation determinations. They typically plan and operate transmission under the jurisdiction of their local governments or the elected boards of their respective utility or irrigation districts. Both WestConnect and CAISO also participate in interconnection-wide transmission planning under the auspices of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC).

The Western Electricity Coordinating Council and the newly formed WECC spin-off company, Peak Reliability, are responsible for planning, coordinating and promoting Bulk Electric System transmission and reliability in the Western Interconnection, including in California. WECC analyzes system needs and futures and coordinates the planning activities of its members as part of its Regional Transmission Expansion Planning (RTEP) project. Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Imperial Irrigation District, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, San Diego Gas & Electric, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, PacifiCorp, Bonneville Power Administration, Transmission Agency of Northern California, Metropolitan Water District and Western Area Power Administration provide transmission services in the state of California.

California Energy Policy

The Warren-Alquist Act (http://www.energy.ca.gov/reports/Warren-Alquist_Act/index.html Division 15 of the Public Resources Code) designates the Energy Commission as the state's primary agency for energy policy and planning. Every two years, the commission is required to prepare the Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) for the Governor and Legislature. The IEPR addresses transmission needs to meet goals related to electricity and natural gas, transportation, energy efficiency, renewables, and public interest energy research.

Transmission lines 200 kV or greater are required to undergo a two-part state siting and permitting process with the CPUC. One part of the process will analyze the need for the project and consists of obtaining a CPCN from the CPUC. The other part of the process will analyze environmental and community impacts in the environmental analysis for CEQA. These processes can occur concurrently, and typically take more than 18 months.

The overall permitting process starts with the applicant submitting a CPCN application and Proponent’s Environmental Assessment (PEA). The CPCN and CEQA review processes run concurrently, but on separate paths. The application can be protested by outside parties, which would trigger public and evidentiary hearings with an Administrative Law Judge. Uncontested applications would move forward into the CEQA analysis process without having to conduct public hearings. Concurrently, the PEA will be reviewed, and the project will undergo public meetings and review. After the public meetings have taken place, using the PEA as a starting point, a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) or Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) would be developed and issued by the CPUC. An MND is a written statement briefly describing the reasons why a proposed project will not have a significant environmental impact and that the project will not require the preparation of an EIR. P.R.C. § 21064.5 There will be another public comment period on the draft EIR or MND, after which a final EIR or MND would be prepared. An approval decision would be made in both the CPCN and CEQA proceedings, which would again be open for comment and a final decision, would be made and certified.

The application for the CPCN would address issues of need,Public Utilities Commission General Order NO. 131-D Public Utilities Commission General Order NO. 131-D current system reliability and increased reliability from the proposed project, load forecasts, project cost, opportunities for local generation, and interconnection with renewable resources.P.U.C. § 399.25

The environmental analysis process ensures that environmental impacts are evaluated pursuant to CEQA.P.R.C. § 21000-21189.3 et.seq. The proponent will first develop and submit a PEA, which includes detailed analysis of environmental resources, community values, aesthetic resources, and historic resources.P.U.C. § 1002 Project alternatives are also included in the environmental analysis and must include the methods used to arrive at the proposed proposal and alternatives, and the alternatives considered but eliminated and the reasons for elimination.P.U.C. § 1002.3 Alternatives are discussed in the detailed discussion of significant impacts chapter of the PEA. The PEA must include the following sections:

  • Project Purpose and Need
  • Project Description
  • Environmental Setting
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Summary of the following resources:
    • Aesthetics
    • Agriculture Resources
    • Air Quality
    • Biological Resources
    • Cultural Resources
    • Geology, Soils, and Seismicity
    • Hazards and Hazardous Materials
    • Hydrology and Water Quality
    • Land Use and Planning
    • Mineral Resources
    • Noise
    • Population and Housing
    • Public Services
    • Recreation
    • Transportation and Traffic
    • Utilities and Services Systems
    • Cumulative Analysis
    • Growth-Inducing Impacts, If Significant
  • Detailed discussion of significant impacts

The CPUC provides a detailed guidance checklist for developing the PEA, called the Proponent’s Environmental Assessment Checklist for Transmission Line and Substation Project. Projects less than 200kV but greater than 50kV are not subject to the CPCN process, but must obtain an approved Permit to Construct which includes compliance with CEQA. Public Utilities Commission General Order NO. 131-D Projects less than 50 kV are not subject to permits from the CPUC or local governments. Projects that do not require permits must still communicate with and obtain input of local authorities regarding land use. Public Utilities Commission General Order NO. 131-D The proponent is responsible for obtaining any non-discretionary permits, such as public works permits.Public Utilities Commission General Order NO. 131-D

Local Process
Local jurisdictions do not have siting authority for transmission facilities.

More Information

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

Transmission Siting: California does not have a state comprehensive siting process for transmission project development.
Preemptive Authority: The California Public Utilities Commission has primary authority over public utilities
Regulated Entity Definition: A "public utility" is defined as "... a electric corporation...where service is performed for, or the commodity is delivered to, the public or any portion thereof..." Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 216(a).
Public Utility Certificate Threshold: Transmission line facilities of 200kV and higher are required to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the California Public Utilities Commission.
Permit Authorization: Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, and California Environmental Quality Act environmental analysis depending on voltage and whether the utility is investor-owned.
Processing Timeframe: There is no statutorily mandated timeframe for approval.