SLO County simplifies permitting process for renewable energy projects

dsneed@thetribunenews.comApril 8, 2014 

A year from now, San Luis Obispo County should have in place a streamlined process that will allow small- to medium-sized renewable energy projects to be permitted quickly.

County planners told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the streamlined permitting process will take months, if not years, off the time it takes to get a permit for renewable power projects and greatly reduce their cost. The project will cover solar, wind, biomass and geothermal projects.

“The proposal will also be of use as a pilot to other county land-use jurisdictions that may wish to streamline renewable energy development,” said James Caruso, project manager.

The program would include both distributed solar projects as well as smaller-scale commercial projects. Distributed projects are typically rooftop and parking lot-mounted solar installations, the power from which is used onsite.

Smaller-scale renewable commercial projects are typically under 20 megawatts, cover fewer than 150 acres and are connected to the electrical grid. The county’s electrical grid currently has the capacity to handle 65 megawatts of new energy production, Caruso said.

The program will focus on inland urban areas of the county as well as rural areas with marginal farmland near populated areas. Eventually, a map will be produced that shows those areas of the county most suitable for renewable energy projects.

The process would be streamlined by preparing a programmatic environmental impact report that can be used as a template for permitting renewable energy projects. As long as a proposed project meets certain performance standards, such as stream setbacks and visual protections, an individual environmental review and a lengthy permitting process would not be necessary.

All of the supervisors are supportive of the project. Supervisor Frank Mecham admitted he is not a fan of wind power due to the large turbine towers needed and the fact that the turbine blades can kill birds.

“I can’t imagine anything uglier than one of those towers, and I like birds,” he said.

The cost of the renewable energy streamlining project is $638,152 and is paid for entirely by a state Energy Commission grant. The program is expected to be in place by March 2015.


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