The Siting, Transmission, and Environmental Protection (STEP) Division is organized into two program areas and six branches.

Power Plant Program

The Power Plant Program has 4 environmental review categories that are administered through a matrix structure between the Siting & Environmental and Safety & Reliability branches and supported by the Engineering Branch.

Siting and Environmental Branch performs independent field investigations; prepares in-depth environmental analyses; helps ensure conditions of certification are met during construction, operation, and decommissioning of licensed power plants; and conducts outreach to California Native American tribes. 

Engineering Branch prepares in-depth air quality, geo science, and facility design analyses, and evaluates and presents expert testimony on power plant construction, operation, and decommissioning.

Safety and Reliability Branch administers the compliance and enforcement of the CEC’s jurisdictional power plants, including any project changes to the power plant’s design, operation, or performance. The branch also leads a comprehensive inspection program to verify that the power plant is compliant with their CEC license. The focus of an inspection is on worker safety, fire safety, hazardous materials management, site physical security, and other conditions the license.

Renewable and Electricity Planning Program

The Renewable and Electricity Planning Program is the CEC’s clean energy implementation planning program with principal policy making authority over the planning, development, and implementation of renewable portfolio standards, offshore wind energy development, land use planning, and other administrative responsibilities. This program is supported by three branches.

Climate Initiatives Branch provides objective and expert analyses and develops and administers energy policy and incentive programs to serve the public interest and address statutory mandates including offshore wind energy development initiatives, land-use screens for solar, terrestrial wind, and storage, and transmission planning.

Renewables Portfolio Standards Branch administers the state’s landmark Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) with the California Public Utilities Commission, to ensure the state’s utilities disclose electricity supply portfolio to consumers, provides funding and programs to support renewable energy development, and tracks the state’s progress toward its renewable goals.

Data Analytics and Integration Branch administers all of STEP’s budgetary, contracts, interagency agreements, and work authorizations, GIS mapping, data modeling, and development of public-use tools such as our program Dashboards.

STEP is the state’s lead environmental permitting authority for all power plants 50 megawatts and greater that are proposed for construction and operations in California. This authority also covers a project’s associated infrastructure such as electric transmission lines, natural gas lines, and water pipelines. The process is the functional equivalent of a CEQA review and includes coordination with local, state, and federal agencies to ensure that these agencies’ permit requirements are incorporated.

Category 1 – Licensing of new energy facility projects, which includes the application for certification (AFC) process, a certified regulatory program that is “functionally equivalent” to CEQA; and results in environmental assessment documents that are functionally equivalent to an environmental impact report (EIR), and the “Opt-In” mandates of AB 205 that require “EIR-plus” documents for eligible facilities.

Power Plant Licensing

Category 2 – Post certification changes to facilities that hold a CEC license such as those licensed under an AFC or Opt-In process. These petitions require an environmental review. For AFCs, this review is a component of CEC’s CEQA equivalency program and conducted pursuant to Title 20, Section 1769; for Opt-In, this review is pursuant to CEQA and Title 20.

 Power Plant Construction, Compliance Monitoring, and Enforcement

Category 3 - Other Environmental Reviews that includes components of the AB 205’s Strategic Reliability Reserve specific to bulk grid investments known as Distributed Electricity Backup Asset Program (or DEBA), for efficiency upgrades, maintenance, and clean capacity additional to existing power generators as well as certification of potential RPS - e.

Distributed Electricity Backup Assets Program

Category 4 – Small Power Plant Exemption (SPPE) – the CEC can exempt from its licensing authority, thermal power plants that do not exceed 100 MW. CEC’s review is pursuant to CEQA and Title 20. An EIR is prepared to support a decision to exempt.

Power Plant Licensing