Power Plant Siting Proceedings FAQs

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What is the Energy Commission's role and jurisdiction in the siting (or power plant licensing) process?

The California Energy Commission ensures that energy facilities of 50 megawatts (MW) or greater are certified (or licensed) in an expeditious and environmentally considerate manner. The energy facilities certification process is designed to be rigorous, fair and consistent, while eliminating duplication and regulatory uncertainty. The Energy Commission does not propose projects. Projects are proposed by applicants, who subsequently submit an Application for Certification to the Energy Commission, requesting a license to construct and operate a power facility.

Power plants that are less than 50 MW are reviewed by local agencies.

What is the purpose of an Application for Certification (AFC)?

An applicant compiles project information and submits the data as an "Application for Certification." The purpose of an application and subsequent proceeding is to ensure that any sites and related facilities licensed by the Energy Commission provide a reliable supply of electrical energy in a manner consistent with public health and safety, promotion of the general welfare, and protection of environmental quality.

What laws cover this process?

The Energy Commission is governed by the Warren Alquist Act (Public Resources Code Section 25000 et seq.) and California Code of Regulations (Title 20). Both references are available to you on the Energy Commission Web Site. An updated version of the regulations can be found at www.calregs.com.

Who makes the decision about the power plant?

The five members of the California Energy Commission grant or deny power plant licenses of 50 MW or greater. During the energy facilities certification process, two commissioners are chosen to oversee all hearings, workshops and related proceedings on a specific project. The two-member "committee" will make recommendations to the other Commissioners before final action for certification is determined at a public hearing of the full five-member Commission.

Who is the Energy Commission staff and what is their role?

The Energy Commission's staff, which includes the project manager, a case attorney and a full range of environmental and engineering experts, is an independent, objective party in a power plant siting procedure. The term "staff" at the Energy Commission does not include the commissioners, the Hearing Officer or the Public Adviser.

The staff reviews the information provided by the applicant and other sources and assesses the completeness and accuracy of the application, the environmental effects of the applicant's proposal, whether the mitigation plan is complete and effective. The staff coordinates with other federal, state and local agencies. The staff compiles their assessment into a report and prepares and presents testimony for the siting committee. The staff also implements a compliance monitoring program to ensure that power plants are constructed and operated according to the conditions of certification.

What is the role of the Public Adviser?

The Energy Commission nominates and the Governor appoints a Public Adviser who is responsible for ensuring that the public and other interested parties are given the opportunity to fully and meaningfully participate in all Commission proceedings, including the certification of energy facilities. The Public Adviser's accessibility affords California citizens the unique opportunity to be a part of energy decision-making that could affect their lives. Appointed to a three-year term, the Public Adviser has the primary responsibility of fostering public understanding of and participation in the certification process.

The Public Adviser does not act as the public's legal counsel before the Energy Commission, but rather advises the public on effective ways to participate in the proceedings. While he or she may not advocate any substantive position on issues before the commission, the Public Adviser provides procedural guidance to the public (including the intervenors) and can also render his or her independent advice and advocate points of procedure that in the Adviser's view will improve public participation in the commission's proceedings.

What does the Hearing Officer do?

The Hearing Officer assists the presiding member in conducting the committee proceeding.

Where will the hearings take place?

We try to accommodate the public by holding the hearings as much as economically feasible in the area of the project. The final decision is usually made at a regularly scheduled Business Meeting in Sacramento.

How are impacts like noise, stack pollutants, and water discharges identified and reviewed?

The applicant proposes the project and provides data on the proposal. The Energy Commission staff, comprised of technical experts, identifies issues and objectively reviews and analyzes the project proposal. The staff publishes their assessment for public comment and to the Committee. Before reaching a decision, the Committee, and ultimately the Energy Commission, must make findings and conclusion on all potential impacts. If there are impacts, there must be conditions that mitigate the impact. The conditions are part of the certificate (license to operate).

Does the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) apply to siting projects?

CEQA applies to the discretionary projects proposed to be carried out or approved by public agencies. The Energy Commission's siting process, as described in the Warren Alquist Act, is rigorous and has been certified "CEQA equivalent" by the Secretary of the Resources Agency. Therefore, siting projects follow a "siting" process and do not follow specific CEQA guidelines for scheduling, noticing or document type.

What is the most effective way to influence the process?

Early participation, when issues are still under study and the parties are more flexible, is the best time to try to influence the design of a project. Issues are discussed and quite often resolved at the workshops.

Issues that remain in dispute are decided by the Committee after evidentiary hearings. Those decisions are made from the hearing record. The hearing record is comprised of "public comment" and "testimony" and it is important to note the difference. Members of the public and interested governmental agencies are invited to attend evidentiary hearing and may offer public comment upon the matters discussed. These public comments will be entered into the record of the proceeding and the Committee may rely on them to supplement or explain the evidence of record.

However, public comments by themselves are not sufficient to support a finding of fact or a decision on any issue. Only testimony, and relevant exhibits, is sufficient in and of themselves to support a finding. Testimony is made under oath before the commission by a party to the proceeding. A party may be an intervenor, the applicant or Energy Commission staff. More information on becoming an intervenor can be found on Intervening in Siting Cases or by contacting the Public Adviser's Office.

If I want to know what's going on, how can I stay informed?

Interested persons can receive notification of upcoming Energy Commission meetings, workshops, hearings and site visits for a proposed power plant siting case by requesting their names be added to the project's e-mail list server or hard copy mailing list. Complete instructions for placing your name on the project e-mail list server are located at www.energy.ca.gov/listservers. Persons can also sign up at a project meeting or contact the Public Adviser's Office for assistance.

Can I make a comment(s)?

Individuals are encouraged to submit a comment through the Energy Commission's online e-commenting system or attend Commission meetings on the case which is of particular interest to them. The public also has the opportunity to hear the positions of the other parties and decide if individual interests are being protected. These public comments can be entered into the record of the proceeding and the Committee may rely on them to supplement or explain the evidence of record. However, it will not be sufficient, alone, to support a decision on any issue before the Commissioners. Comments do not have the same weight as testimony.

If I want to read a staff report, how do I get a copy?

The Energy Commission's Docket is the repository for official records of all Energy Commission rule-making proceedings, including certification for energy facilities. The reports and other Commission documents are accessible on the Commission website at www.energy.ca.gov/sitingcases/alphabetical.html and from the Dockets Unit. In certain instances, hard copies of docketed materials are available in selected public libraries throughout California and in communities affected by a proposed facility.

NOTICE: Distributed by the Public Adviser's Office. This is for informational purposes only. It is designed to assist you in understanding the process. It is, therefore, general in nature and does not discuss all exceptions and variations.