California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is proposing a single-stop permitting agency for electricity transmission and renewable energy projects.
The proposed state Energy Department would consolidate permitting efforts divided among at least nine agencies.
Expanding transmission, seen as a key to grid stability and achieving goals of expanding the use of renewable energy, is often hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape and lawsuits. And nowhere are the hurdles higher than in California.
Building a transmission line takes about five to seven years in most states, but it takes 10 to 12 years in California, as in the case of the Sunrise Powerlink, a recently approved line to San Diego that was first proposed in 2001 and will not be built until at least 2012.
Schwarzenegger, who hopes to shorten that process considerably, will submit his plan to the Legislature later this year, spokeswoman Lisa Page said.
"The goal is to help California focus on energy stability and to ensure coordination across agencies," Page said. "We have a very aggressive goal of 33 percent renewables by 2020 and reducing greenhouse gases, so given those aggressive goals, this will help streamline projects so we can get more renewable energy."
There is also growing interest in Washington in clearing transmission gridlock. President Obama's energy and climate coordinator, Carol Browner, said Sunday that she supports the creation of an inter-agency team to handle transmission siting. Speaking to a group of Western governors, including Schwarzenegger, she said a one-stop permitting authority might smooth efforts to build power lines in the West (Greenwire, Feb. 23).
Schwarzenegger first floated the idea of a state DOE in 2004, saying California needed a stronger energy policy to recover from the state's 2000-01 power crisis, in which efforts to deregulate the electricity market led to gaming by energy companies and a series of rolling blackouts. The crisis inhibited investment in the state's grid.
Details are scant on the new Schwarzenegger plan, but one key move would remove the Public Utilities Commission's authority over transmission line siting and renewable power projects over 50 megawatts, according to the governor's office.
Schwarzenegger's 2004 proposal "completely dismantled" the State Lands Commission, which is in charge of all oil and gas drilling on state lands and offshore, said Paul Thayer, the commission's executive director. For transmission projects, the commission often serves as the lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act. It also oversees applications for solar projects on some desert tracts and for offshore energy projects.
Thayer said he did not know what Schwarzenegger intended to do this time with his agency, which was established in 1938 to oversee the use of public lands to generate revenue for schools. "We haven't been consulted or have any idea what's going to happen," he said.
Other affected agencies are the California Energy Commission, the California Power Authority, the Electricity Oversight Board, the California Energy Resources Scheduling Division, the Department of General Services, the Office of Planning and Research and the Office of the State Architect.
In part, the new proposal is also motivated by the state's budget crunch.
Schwarzenegger has floated a host of other consolidation proposals beyond this one, including eliminating the Integrated Waste Management Board, shrinking the California Conservation Corps and reorganizing state information technology employees in a single agency. Anticipating a $42 billion state budget deficit by mid-2010, Schwarzenegger signed a budget last week that included $15 billion in cuts.
"At a time when California families and businesses are cutting back and tightening their belts, state government must do the same -- we have a responsibility to ensure government is working efficiently with taxpayer dollars," he said last month.