Energy Commission to Consider Solar Jurisdiction

By Published On: August 26, 2011

The California Energy Commission Aug. 24 decided it would decide whether or not to grant a developer’s petition seeking to circumvent the local process for licensing a project that may be converted to photovoltaic power. The Ridgecrest Power Project, a planned 250 MW facility, would potentially sit in northeastern Kern County. Traditionally, the Energy Commission does not have jurisdiction over photovoltaic projects. The developer, Solar Trust of America, has said its Ridgecrest solar thermal project, may switch to photovoltaic technology. On June 17, it filed a petition requesting that the CEC continue to oversee the process, even though these types of projects are typically permitted at the local level. “The motion involved precedential, or potentially precedential, issues that appear to be more appropriate for consideration and determination by the full commission,” said commission hearing officer Kourtney Vaccaro. Originally, the project’s siting committee, made up of commissioners Karen Douglas and Bob Weisenmiller, were to rule on the jurisdictional issue. However, on Aug. 24, the Energy Commission decided it would be best for it to handle the matter. “This is a very unusual circumstance we find ourselves in here,” commissioner Jim Boyd said. “It’s somewhat precedential and should be looked at beyond the scope of a siting committee.” Kern County officials and the Center for Biological Diversity are among the entities urging the CEC not to continue with the siting case if the project’s converted to photovoltaic technology. They say that would constitute an overreach of the commission’s authority, encroaching into the jurisdiction of cities and counties that oversee licensing of PV projects. A Sept. 16 deadline was set for interveners and interested parties to file written briefs on the issue. Also Aug. 24, the commission approved a developer’s petition to modify the Blythe Solar Power Project, currently under construction in Riverside County. The 1,000 MW project, which was certified for construction in September 2010, is also being developed by Solar Trust of America, a subsidiary of Solar Millennium. The modifications include moving the location of a transmission line, relocating existing transmission poles, and replacing a steam turbine generator with a different make and model. Commission project manager Mary Dyas said the changes would not result in any significant environmental impacts. Additionally this week, the commission approved an amendment to add $6 million in funding to the California Rural Home Mortgage Finance Authority. The fund provides grants and low-interest home energy efficiency and renewable generation retrofit loans to homeowners.

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