Licenses Provided by the California Energy Commission
NOTES ABOUT THIS PAGE:
The terms license, certification, certificate and permit are used interchangeably in applicable law and throughout this page.
Application fees for licensing and other activities outlined below can be found on the Licensing and Compliance Fees for Facilities page.
Laws governing these authorities can be found in:
- Application for Certification and Small Power Plant Exemption: Public Resources Code, Division 15, Chapter 6, sections 25500-25543; California Code of Regulations, Title 20, Division 2, Chapter 5.
- Opt-in Certification: Public Resources Code, Division 15, Chapter 6.2, sections 25545-25545.13; California Code of Regulations, Title 20, Division 2, Chapter 5.
- DWR facility certification: Public Resources Code, Division 15, Chapter 8.9, sections 25794-25794.10: California Code of Regulations, Title 20, Division 2, Chapter 5.
Application for Certification
The CEC has the exclusive authority for licensing thermal power plants of 50 MW or larger, as well as related transmission lines, fuel supply lines, and other facilities. This would include, for example, any natural gas–fired, solar thermal, and geothermal plant that meets the 50 MW threshold, but would not include others, such as hydroelectric, solar photovoltaic, and onshore wind power.
A certificate issued by the CEC is in lieu of any permit, certificate, or similar document otherwise required by any state, local or regional agency, or federal agency to the extent permitted by federal law, and supersedes any applicable statute, ordinance, or regulation of any state, local, or regional agency, or federal agency to the extent permitted by federal law.
The application for certification (AFC) process, a certified regulatory program under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), results in environmental assessment documents that are “functionally equivalent” to an environmental impact report (EIR). After licensing, the CEC is required to monitor compliance of the facility with all applicable federal, state, and local laws, as well as any conditions of certification imposed by the CEC.
More information: Synopsis of the Power Plant Siting Process
Small Power Plant Exemption
The Small Power Plant Exemption (SPPE) program allows CEC to exempt from its licensing authority thermal power plants that do not exceed 100 MW. The CEC’s review is pursuant to CEQA and California Code of Regulations, Title 20. The CEC can grant an exemption if it finds that the proposed facility would not create a substantial adverse impact on the environment or energy resources. As the lead agency under CEQA, the CEC prepares the appropriate CEQA document for the project (for example, a mitigated negative declaration or an EIR). If exemption is approved, the project developer is responsible for securing local, state, and federal permits to construct and operate the plant. Local and state agencies will consider the environmental document prepared by the CEC for any discretionary decisions subject to CEQA.
In 2022, Assembly Bill 205 established a new Opt-in Certification program for eligible non-fossil-fueled power plants, energy storage, and manufacturing and assembly facilities to optionally seek certification through the CEC. If CEC approves a project, the certification would be in lieu of any permit, certificate, or similar document required by any state, local, or regional agency, or federal agency to the extent permitted by federal law, with some exceptions.
The following types of facilities are eligible to apply for Opt-in Certification Program:
- Solar photovoltaic or terrestrial wind electrical generating power plants (50 MW or greater).
- Energy storage system (capable of storing 200 megawatt-hours (MWh) or more).
- A stationary power plant using any source of thermal energy, excluding fossil or nuclear fuels (50 MW or greater).
- Certain transmission lines associated with these generating and storage facilities.
- Specified facilities that manufacture or assemble clean energy or storage technologies or related components.
What is CEC required to do?
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.
What are other agencies required to do?
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.
Will CEC consult with California Native American tribes?
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.
Will this process allow the public an opportunity to comment on a proposed project?
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.
Can the CEC approve a project that was denied by a local government, or does not conform to local ordinances?
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.
What findings must the CEC make to approve a project?
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.
Is CEC’s certificate in lieu of all permits an applicant will need to build and operate an eligible facility?
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.
Happens at least 30 days prior to filing an application.
- CEC has 30 days to conduct Application Completeness Review once it is filed
- CEC can request additional information
- Application shared with local governments, interested parties and media
- If deemed complete, CEC issues Determination of Complete Application notice
- Once the application is deemed complete, there is a 270-day window to conduct the environmental review process (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.)
- CEC Required Process Milestones
- Day 1: Determination of Complete Application
- Day 3: Notice of Preparation
- Day 5: Initiate Tribal Engagement
- Day 30: Public/Scoping Meeting, Discovery Request Due
- Day 150: Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Notice of Availability Published
- 20-40 days from draft EIR publish date: Draft EIR workshop
- 60 days from draft EIR publish date: Draft EIR public comment
- Day 240: Final EIR
- Day 270: CEC Business Meeting decision
- Day 360: Partner agencies applicable permit decisions (Those agencies that retain their permitting authority are required to issue permits within 90 days of a CEC decision to certify a project.)
Certifying Department of Water Resources’ Facilities for the Strategic Reliability Reserve
The CEC also has exclusive jurisdiction to certify sites on which facilities for actions undertaken by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) are proposed to be located. Certification of a site and facilities related to the Strategic Reliability Reserve would be exempt from CEQA, but CEC is required to prepare an environmental assessment document for proposed facilities. The siting application undergoes an expedited review, with the CEC determining whether to issue a certification no later than 180 days after the application is deemed complete.