Shades of the 1970s abound as the California Energy Commission confronts a request to break precedent and license a utility-scale photovoltaic power plant. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, the Legislature and Gov. Ronald Reagan enacted the Warren-Alquist Act to form the CEC in a bid to speed power plant licensing and conserve energy. The 1974 act gave the Energy Commission exclusive authority to permit all thermal power plants with a generating capacity of 50 MW or more. Today, a solar project developer--Solar Trust of America (aka Solar Millennium)--is scurrying to get a major photovoltaic plant in Kern County near Ridgecrest licensed by the state to respond to the state\u2019s 33 percent renewable portfolio standard. Solar Trust is seeking a license in time to cash in on limited federal financing incentives, set to expire at the end of 2012. Company attorney Scott Galati said he wants the commission to continue licensing the project--originally proposed as a solar thermal plant clearly under the Energy Commission\u2019s jurisdiction. This would avoid starting out from scratch with a new permit application with the county. The local agency normally would license a large photovoltaic project. Galati cites a provision in the Warren-Alquist Act that outlines a procedure for project developers not covered by the law to opt in to the CEC licensing process. Commission senior staff council Jared Babula opposes Galati\u2019s request, noting that the Warren-Alquist Act covers only thermal power plants. He further contends that lawmakers carved out the obscure opt-in provision only to address a few power projects that were pending at the time the law was enacted and first implemented. According to the commission, lawmakers passed the Warren-Alquist Act to avert projected power shortages. California\u2019s electricity demand was growing at 7 percent\/year at the time, according to a legislative analysis. In 1973, the state had a peak demand of 37,700 MW, which was projected to grow to 55,450 MW by 1980. It was estimated to reach a whopping 119,500 MW by 1990. The report projected imminent electricity shortages due to the first Arab oil embargo in 1973, which threatened to choke off the fuel supply for the state\u2019s oil burning power plants. The task at hand was to spur quick action to conserve energy and speed construction of new nuclear, solar thermal, and trash-to-energy plants to meet rising demand. Former Energy Commission member John Geesman recalls electricity use was growing so fast it would have required a nuclear power plant about \u201cevery 10 miles long the coast to meet that demand.\u201d In a bid for editorial support, Assemblymember Charles Warren wrote to newspapers in 1973 that it was \u201cimperative for the Legislature to act as soon as possible in order that California will be assured a future supply of electricity.\u201d Today, while energy shortages are hardly imminent, there\u2019s considerable pressure to reach 33 percent renewable energy by 2020, as part of a plan to cut greenhouse gases by 80 million metric tons\/year by that same time. That pressure is compounded by the expiration at the end of 2012 of federal incentives that can drastically lower the cost of building renewable energy facilities. The question today is whether speed is of the essence, just like when Warren was concerned that power plant permitting was too slow in the 1970s due to the multitude of state and local agencies involved. Previous legislative attempts to consolidate plant permitting failed in 1972 and 1973 due to local opposition. Cities and counties were concerned the state was attempting a power grab to control land-use, traditionally the exclusive province of local government. They feared the state would ride roughshod over local zoning requirements, placing power plants in areas nobody wanted them. But in its genius, the Warren-Alquist Act quelled local concerns through its comprehensive approach to managing the state\u2019s power system. Geesman said the law charged the Energy Commission with \u201ccounterbalancing core functions.\u201d It coupled energy conservation and efficiency programs, research and development, and energy demand forecasting in a bid to carefully hone how many new power plants were needed and in what locations. And unlike previous bills, when it came to licensing those plants, it required the new commission to enforce local ordinances and zoning codes as actual permit conditions for project developers. Local governments--also concerned about the 1970s energy crisis--looked favorably upon this approach. County Supervisors Association of California program coordinator Thomas Van Horn wrote to Warren on Feb. 19, 1974, in general support of the bill. \u201cWhile I realize that the land use question is a difficult one,\u201d he wrote, \u201cwe believe you and your staff have made an ambitious attempt to involve local government, and for that, we commend you.\u201d Van Horn told Warren that as a result the state\u2019s county supervisors were \u201cin general accord\u201d with the bill, AB 1575. Galati\u2019s suggestion that the Energy Commission assert licensing authority over the proposed photovoltaic project in Ridgecrest is ruffling local feathers anew, with Kern County opposing the suggestion. The matter is pending with an Energy Commission committee.