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California State Plant Commissioning Process - Application for Certification (7-CA-a)

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has authority under Cal. Pub. Res. § 25500 et seq for licensing thermal power plants with a net generating capacity of 50 megawatts (MW) or more and all related facilities dedicated or essential to the operation of thermal power plants (e.g. transmission lines to first point of junction with the transmission grid, gas pipelines, water lines, access roads, ect.). In order to determine whether the power plant will have a net generating capacity of 50 MW or more, the CEC issues the developer a questionnaire based on 20 CCR § 2003. The CEC’s thermal power plant licensing process will take the place of all requirements of state, local, and regional agencies otherwise required before constructing a new thermal power plant. The CEC also coordinates its review of the facility with federal agencies issuing permits for the project to ensure that the CEC certification process incorporates conditions required by federal law.

The CEC thermal power plant licensing process is a certified regulatory program and the CEC is lead agency under CEQA. The CEC does not develop an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), but instead develops a functionally equivalent document for the licensing process which includes staff assessments and committee reports.

Facilities under 50 MW may be subject to local county zoning and construction requirements for building the power plant, but are not under the jurisdiction of the CEC's Application for Certification and Small Power Plant Exemption requirements. Additionally, pursuant to Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 25540.5, the CEC may delegate siting authority over geothermal power plants and related facilities to county governments which have adopted geothermal elements into their general plans. The CEC will delegate such power when the county government has demonstrated a capability to expeditiously process applications for geothermal power plants or geothermal field development projects, so long as the county government has adopted policies which are consistent with the CEC's policies for the development of geothermal resources.

State Plant Commissioning Process - Application for Certification

7-CA-a.1 - Pre-Filing Meetings (Optional)

The CEC encourages potential developers to set up a pre-filing meeting to discuss the AFC process, identify information necessary for a complete application, and identify issues specific to the potential thermal power plant. The optional pre-filing meeting(s) may include workshops, site visits, public meetings, and a preliminary review of the applicant’s filing documents.

7-CA-a.2 to 7-CA-a.3 - Is the Power Plant Over 50 MW and Under the CEC’s Jurisdiction?

The CEC’s jurisdiction to regulate power plants depends on the wattage and type of the plant. Thermal power plants with a net generating capacity under 50 MW fall outside of the CEC’s jurisdiction and are regulated at the local level.

Solar Note that only “thermal” power plants are under the jurisdiction of the CEC. Solar photovoltaic (PV) plants and other non-thermal plants are under local city or county jurisdiction. Concentrated solar power plants are considered thermal and are under CEC jurisdiction. Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 25120

Geothermal The CEC may also designate siting and regulation of geothermal power plants over 50 MW to the local county or city jurisdiction at the CEC’s discretion. The local county or city must have a specific geothermal certification process that the CEC approves as the equivalent of its own certification process. Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 25540.5

7-CA-a.4 to 7-CA-a.5 - Is the Project Located on BLM Land?

A thermal power plant that is over 50 MW and located on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will be under both CEC and BLM jurisdiction. The CEC and the BLM have a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that details a joint environmental review and siting process. Any project that is located on BLM managed land and regulated by the CEC will have to go through this process; there is no small power plant exception. If the power plant is not located on BLM land but project generator tie lines are located on BLM land, the BLM/CEC joint siting process may still apply subject to discretion by the BLM.

BLM/CEC Joint Siting Process:

7-CA-a.6 to 7-CA-a.7 – Is the Power Plant Under 100 MW with no Adverse Unmitigated Impacts on the Environment or Energy Resources?

Thermal power plants between 50 and 100 MW are eligible for a Small Power Plant Exemption (SPPE), which allows the developer to bypass the CEC’s licensing process if the plant has no adverse impacts on the environment or energy resources.

See 20 CCR § 1936

State Plant Commissioning Process, Small Power Plant Exception:

7-CA-a.8 - Application for Certification (AFC)

Thermal power plants not granted a SPPE and those over 100 MW must file an Application for Certification (AFC). The AFC is followed by 6-12 month licensing process, depending on whether the applicant can demonstrate at the outset that the project does not present any adverse effects. Typically, the 6 monthprocess only applies to additional facilities for previously licensed project. Practice and Procedure Guide. Otherwise, the licensing process will take 12 months. Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 25522

Developers falling within the CEC’s jurisdiction prepare and submit an AFC to the CEC. The AFC should at a minimum include:

  • The Project description;
  • Site description;
  • Engineering description of proposed facilities;
  • Description of electric transmission lines and any other facilities related to the project;
  • Project and Site alternatives;
  • Environmental description and expected impacts including biological surveys conducted at the appropriate time of year;
  • Mitigation measures to reduce potentially significant environmental impacts;
  • Information necessary for the local/regional air pollution control district to make a determination of compliance with local rules and regulations;
  • Information necessary for the regional water quality control board to issue waste discharge requirements or a national pollution discharge elimination system permit;
  • Compliance with applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards;
  • Financial impacts and estimated cost of the project; and
  • Project schedule.

Energy Facility Licensing Process Developer’s Guide

Solar: Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 25520

Geothermal: Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 25540.2(a)

7-CA-a.9 to 7-CA-a.10 - Review Application Materials for Completeness

Once a developer submits an AFC, the CEC reviews the application for completeness using the requirements listed in the siting regulations 20 CCR § 1704. CEC’s review includes input from other agencies responsible for resources affected by the project, including the State Water Resources Control Board and local air pollution control district. Once an AFC has been accepted by the CEC for review a Commission Committee will be assigned to the proposed project. The Commission Committee will make recommendations to the full Commission as to whether the project meets the required standards for certification. Energy Facility Licensing Process Developer’s Guide, page 2. The CEC staff reviewing the AFC must make a data adequacy recommendation to the full CEC within 30 days after the developer submits the AFC and the CEC must act on the recommendation at a public meeting within 45 days of the AFC filing. If the application is not complete, the developer must provide the requested information in order to continue with the siting process.

Practice and Procedure Guide, page 12.

7-CA-a.11 - Issue Identification Report

After the CEC accepts the filing of the developer’s AFC, the CEC staff prepares an Issue Identification Report (IIR) to inform interested parties and committee members of the major issues surrounding the project. The IIR identifies potential significant impacts that may be difficult to mitigate, conflicts with local laws, ordinances, and regulations, as well as conflicts between parties. The report will be conducted about 15 to 25 days after the AFC has been accepted by the CEC. The IIR will be released publicly and public comments will be accepted concerning the proposed project.

Practice and Procedure Guide, page 45.

7-CA-a.12 to 7-CA-a.13 - Data Requests to Developer (May be more than 1 Round)

The CEC provides the developer with a written list of deficiencies for the developer to address in supplemental filings before continuing with the AFC process. The CEC will continue to request data from the developer and other agencies involved in the licensing process until the Commission determines the AFC is complete. The data request will be used to gather any additional information needed for the staff reports that are prepared by the CEC.

Practice and Procedure Guide, page 40.

7-CA-a.14 - Issue Identification Report and Data Response Workshop

The first report released by the CEC is the IIR. Once the IIR is released and public comments have been collected, the CEC will hold a workshop to discuss the IIR and data response documents with the developer. These workshops are informal and are intended to assist the developer in making sure the proposed facility will meet the required standards for certification.

Practice and Procedure Guide, page 40.

7-CA-a.15 - Draft Permits or Opinions

During the 12-month process, state and federal agencies are expected to submit draft permits or opinions comments and suggested permit conditions approximately 120 days after the application for certification is accepted. Within 180 days, state and federal wildlife agencies are expected to submit permits, final biological comments, opinions, and recommendations.

Practice and Procedure Guide, page 40.

7-CA.16 to 7-CA.17 Request Additional Information

Based on any draft permits or opinions, the CEC may request additional information as is necessary for a complete staff analysis of the notice or application. 20 CCR 1716(a). Any requests by the CEC must be made within 180 days of notice of the application. 20 CCR 1716(e).

The CEC and developer will subsequently hold additional workshops that may include other agencies or interested parties. The workshops assist in developing and agreeing on necessary mitigation practices that will reduce project impacts to the regulatory requirements of certification.

7-CA-a.18 to 7-CA-a.20 - Preliminary Staff Assessment

The CEC Commission Committee will prepare an independent analysis, focusing on environmental impacts, mitigation measures, and development of the compliance plan. The CEC uses the independent analysis to prepare a preliminary staff assessment of the project. Thereafter, the CEC holds public workshops on the preliminary staff assessment to elicit input from the developer, public agencies, and other interested parties and public participants. The preliminary staff assessment workshop is held approximately 180 days after the acceptance of the AFC.

Practice and Procedure Guide, page 39.

7-CA-a.21 - Final Staff Assessment

The CEC uses the input from the staff assessment workshop to prepare a Final Staff Assessment that it uses as the staff’s testimony during the public hearings phase. The Final Staff Assessment covers:

  • Environmental analysis;
  • Engineering analysis;
  • Alternative sites, locations, and project design analysis;
  • Facility closure; and
  • Compliance conditions for certification.

7-CA-a.22 - Hold Public Hearings

The AFC evidentiary hearings period is 30 days during which the developer, CEC staff, other agencies responsible for resources affected by the project, and the public present testimony to a CEC Committee of two Energy Commissioners assigned to the project. The evidentiary hearings establish the factual record through written, oral, and documentary testimony from developer, CEC staff, interested agencies, and any other intervenors in the AFC process. This period is a formal process where the public may comment on any concerns or disputes they might have with the project.

Energy Facility Licensing Process Developer’s Guide, page 8.

7-CA-a.23 to 7-CA-a.25 - Proposed Decision

The CEC Committee assigned to the AFC prepares a proposed decision that is released for public review and comment after the close of the evidentiary hearings. The proposed decision is then revised based on the public review and comment for presentation to the full CEC. The proposed decision is adopted, modified, or rejected by the full Commission. If the proposed decision is adopted without any modifications, the developer will be granted a siting permit that will allow the project to move forward and be developed. If the proposed decision is modified at all, the CEC will create an addendum or a revised decision that will be presented to the full Commission.

See Energy Facility Licensing Process Developer’s Guide, page 8.

7-CA-a.24 to 7-CA-a.29 – Does the CEC Approve the AFC

If the proposed decision is accepted without any modifications, the developer will be issued a siting permit and may begin construction as soon as the permit is issued. If the proposed decision is amended then the CEC will hold another hearing to determine if the amended version is acceptable and meets the required standards needed for approval.

After the CEC has made a final decision any party may petition the CEC within 30 days to reconsider. The Commission is not required to grant the petition to reconsider and if less than three members of the Commission agree to reconsider the petition will be denied and the final decision will stand. If the CEC does not affirm the petition to reconsider the developer must then appeal to the California Supreme Court. Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 25531 20 CCR § 1720

Energy Facility Licensing Process Developer’s Guide, page 13.

7-CA-a.30 – Siting Permit

Once the siting permit is granted by the CEC, the developer may begin construct on the power plant. The developer has 5 years from the issuance of the permit to begin construction and that period may be extended for good cause.

Energy Facility Licensing Process Developer’s Guide, page 14.

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