Permitting is crucial to deploy renewable energy power plants, which are essential to meet the state’s climate goals. With half a century of permitting experience under the California Environmental Quality Act, Assembly Bill 205 (2022) has broadened the California Energy Commission's (CEC) authority. This expansion allows the CEC to oversee the permitting of clean and renewable energy facilities, including solar photovoltaic, onshore wind, and energy storage systems, and facilities that produce or assemble clean energy technologies or their components. Known as the Opt-In Certification Program, this permitting process offers developers an optional pathway to submit project applications, facilitating faster deployment of renewable technologies.

Under AB 205, the CEC is the lead CEQA agency for environmental review and permitting for any facility that elects to opt into the CEC’s jurisdiction. The Opt-in program requires the CEC to:

  • Complete in 270 days an environmental impact report (EIR) under CEQA.
  • Certify compliance with requirements for community benefits agreement, project labor agreements, and economic benefits.
  • Ensure consistency with all laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards (LORS) under the Warren-Alquist Act.

The following types of facilities are eligible to apply to the Opt-in Certification Program: 

  • Solar photovoltaic or terrestrial wind electrical generating power plants generating 50 megawatts (MW) or greater
  • Energy storage systems capable of storing 200 megawatt-hours (MWh) or more
  • Stationary power plants 50 MW or greater using any source of thermal energy, excluding fossil or nuclear fuels.
  • Transmission lines associated with these generating and storage facilities.
  • Specified facilities that manufacture or assemble clean energy or storage technologies or related components

A key part of creating a safe and reliable electric system is ensuring that the review of these proposed facilities includes a process for public input. Within five days of each project application being deemed complete, the CEC sends an invitation to request consultations with California Native American tribes. Within 30 days, the CEC holds a public scoping and informational meeting. By day 150, the CEC posts a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and within 30-60 days of posting the draft EIR, the CEC holds a public meeting on the draft EIR and provides 60 days for public comment. On or before the 270th day, the proposed project and final EIR will be brought to a CEC business meeting for license consideration.

Proposed Projects

There are two ways to receive updates and notifications about the Opt-In Certification Program.  

For specific projects, subscribe on the project webpage to receive all documents filed to the project’s docket.

For general program updates and notifications about major project milestones, such as new project applications, upcoming public meetings and publication of reports, subscribe for Opt-In Certification Program Updates in the box on the right side of this page.

Fact Sheets

FAQ on Opt-in Certification

The CEC is required to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and make its decision at a public meeting on the application within 270 days of receiving a complete application. The law identifies certain factors that could impact the CEC’s ability to render a decision within 270 days, including the identification of new significant effects after publication of the Draft EIR that requires additional public comment.

The CEC is required to coordinate its review of opt-in applications with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the State Water Resources Control Board, and applicable Regional Water Quality Control Boards (“Water Boards”), and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). CEC must consult with CDFW to ensure necessary information is submitted during the CEC certification process to grant any authorizations under the Fish and Game Code (e.g., authorized take of a listed species) in lieu of CDFW, and for the agencies that retain their permitting authority to issue their respective permits. The CEC is required to consult with all responsible and trustee agencies on the scope and content of the EIR under CEQA. The CEC must also certify the administrative record within 5 days of certifying the EIR and granting a certificate to a project.

Agencies that retain their permitting authority are required to issue permits within 90 days of a CEC decision to certify a project. Per memorandums of understanding, CDFW, Water Boards, and DTSC may also participate in pre-filing meetings and CEQA review of proposed projects.

Yes. Within five days of an application being deemed complete, the CEC is required to send requests for consultation letters to tribes that are culturally and traditionally associated with the geographic area of a proposed project. During the consultation process, the CEC is required to solicit the traditional ecological knowledge of affiliated tribes and incorporate this knowledge where feasible in the EIR. The CEC is required to take all feasible measures to avoid or minimize adverse effects to tribal cultural resources.

Yes. There are multiple opportunities for the public to provide comments. The CEC will announce the receipt of an opt-in application through its email subscription service, and by advertising in a newspaper of general circulation in the project area. Within 30 days of an application being deemed complete and prior to publication of the Draft EIR, the CEC is required to hold a public information and scoping meeting as close as practicable to the proposed project site. There will be a comment period on the Draft EIR, and the CEC will hold at least one public workshop in the project area to take public comment. All public meetings will be announced at least 10 days in advance.

Yes. If a project is approved, CEC’s certificate is in lieu of any local permit or local law or ordinance. However, to grant a certificate to a project, the CEC must make findings that the project will comply with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards, or make findings that despite the non-conformance, the project is required for public convenience and necessity, and that there are not more prudent and feasible means of achieving public convenience and necessity. The CEC is required to invite the local government to attend a mandatory pre-filing meeting with an applicant.

To approve an opt-in project, the CEC must find that the project will provide an overall net positive economic benefit to the local government, that the applicant has entered into a community benefits agreement, and that the applicant has certified payment of prevailing wage, or equivalent, for all construction, and the use of a skilled and trained workforce, or equivalent, for all construction.

The CEC must also find that the project will comply with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards (LORS). If a project will not comply with any applicable LORS, the CEC must find that the project is required for public convenience and necessity, and that there are not more prudent and feasible means of achieving public convenience and necessity. In making the determination, the CEC must consider the entire record of the proceeding, including, but not limited to, the impacts of the facility on the environment, consumer benefits, and electric system reliability.

The CEC must make findings under CEQA for any project that would have a significant effect on the environment. For each significant effect, the CEC must find that project changes have been required to avoid or substantially lessen the significant effect, or that mitigation or alternatives to avoid or substantially lessen the significant effect are infeasible. To approve a project that is found to have a significant and unavoidable impact on the environment, the CEC will need to adopt a statement of overriding considerations that identifies how the project’s benefits will outweigh any unavoidable impact.

The CEC’s certificate is in lieu of any permit that would normally be required by the local land use authority and most but not all state permits. The CEC’s permit will not supersede the permitting requirements of the California Coastal Commission or San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission for projects in these agencies’ jurisdiction. Nor will the CEC’s permit supersede the permits of the applicable Regional Water Quality Control Board, and in the case of manufacturing facilities, the permits required by the applicable local air district and Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Opt-in Process Timeline Requirements

Prefiling Meeting

Must occur at least 30 days prior to filing an application.

Application Filing

  • CEC must conduct an Application Completeness Review within 30 days of application filed
  • CEC can request additional information
  • CEC must share application with local governments, interested parties, and media
  • CEC must issue a Determination of Completeness Notice
    1. If application deemed incomplete, the CEC issues a notice that incudes the data and information still needed.
    2. If application deemed complete, the CEC issues a completeness notice and begins the environmental review process

Environmental Review

  • A complete Environmental Impact Report must be conducted and finalized within 270 days. (Note that statute identifies certain factors that could impact the CEC’s ability to render a decision within 270 days, including the identification of new significant effects after publication of the Draft EIR that requires recirculation of the Draft EIR for public comment.)
  • Process and Deadlines **
    • Day 0: File the Determination of Complete Application
    • Day 3: File and circulate the Notice of Preparation of an EIR
    • Day 5: Send invitation to request tribal consultations.
    • Day 30: Hold public informational and scoping meeting as close as practicable to the project site.
    • Day 150: File and circulate the draft EIR and Notice of Availability and public comment period begins.
    • Day 180 – 210: Hold a public meeting on the draft EIR at a location as close as possible to the proposed project site.
    • Day 210: Close the public comment period on draft EIR (60 days from publication date).
    • Day 240: File final EIR
    • Day 240: File the CEC’s executive director’s recommendation.
    • Day 270: Present final EIR and staff recommendation at a publicly noticed CEC Business Meeting. The CEC Commissioners can approve or disapprove project, or require additional information or analysis.
    • Day 360: State agencies retaining permit authority make permit decisions on application approved by the CEC

After the CEC approves the application, the project must comply with all provisions of their CEC license including the construction, the operation life, and the decommissioning and eventual closure. Also, per California Code of Regulations § 1769, if there are any proposed changes to the design, operation, or performance of a CEC licensed project then the CEC must approve that project change.