Gov. Schwarzenegger signs executive order raising California renewable goals, streamlining approvals

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order Monday that increases the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 33% by 2020 and promises to streamline California’s renewable energy project approval process. He also announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with federal agencies to establish a coordinated approach in the expedited permitting process to reduce the time and expense for developing renewable energy on federally owned state land.

The governor made the announcement at OptiSolar’s new thin-film PV panel factory in Sacramento, which is scheduled to begin multi-megawatt-scale production next year.

“I am proposing we set the most aggressive target in the nation for renewable energy–33% by the year 2020–that’s a third of our energy from sources like solar, wind, and geothermal,” he said. “But we won’t meet that goal doing business as usual, where environmental regulations are holding up environmental progress in some cases. This executive order will clear the red tape for renewable projects and streamline the permitting and siting of new plants and transmission lines.

In addition to expanding the state’s current RPS requirements, the governor said he will propose legislative language that will codify the new higher standards and require all utilities, public and private, to meet the 33% target and spread implementation costs across all ratepayers with safeguards for low-income customers. Such legislation would allow for the expansion of eligibility for California’s RPS program to renewable energy generation from other Western states and reform the renewable energy market structure to spur new development while providing consumer safeguards.

The executive order directs state agencies to create comprehensive plans to prioritize regional renewable projects based on an area’s renewable resource potential and the level of protection for plant and animal habitat. To implement and track the progress of the order, the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) signed a memorandum of understanding formalizing a Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT).

To streamline the application process for renewable energy development, the two agencies will create a one-stop permitting process with the goal of reducing the application time for specific projects in half. This will be done through the creation of a special joint streamlining unit that will concurrently review permit applications filed at the state level.

To jump start Natural Communities Conservation Plans under the order, the REAT will begin the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan in the priority Mojave and Colorado Desert regions and identify other preferred areas that will benefit from a streamlined permitting and environmental review process.

The executive order is the latest in a series of solar and renewable energy-related laws and policies enacted during Gov.Schwarzenegger time in office, including the California Solar Initiative and the Million Solar Roofs plan.

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