New rules aim to streamline construction of renewable energy projects

The time it takes to get permits to build some renewable energy projects could be reduced from a year to as little as three months under new planning rules adopted by San Luis Obispo County supervisors Tuesday.

As much as 150 megawatts of renewable energy could be generated in the county under the new rules, which are intended to streamline the construction of small-scale renewable energy projects in the county.

In addition to shortening the permitting time, the new rules would also give more certainty to renewable energy developers because the streamlined rules are very clear-cut, said James Caruso, a senior county planner.

Not everyone at Tuesday’s hearing was in favor of the streamlining process. David Chipping, conservation chair of the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society, said the streamlined process undercuts the environmental review of the energy projects.

“It essentially disenfranchises people, and it doesn’t save that much time and money,” he said.

The new rules apply to the permitting of solar electric and wind energy projects in suitable locations in inland areas of the county. Suitable projects include ground-mounted solar arrays, rooftop solar and wind facilities, solar-covered parking lots and small wind generators.

The county estimates that the program could result in 75 to 150 projects ranging in size from 1 to 2 megawatts spread over 1,500 acres in the county.

In order to identify locations suitable for renewable energy, planners surveyed the unincorporated areas of the county to identify regions with access to electrical infrastructure, such as transmission lines and substations, as well as those that are away from sensitive areas such as scenic vistas and habitat for rare or endangered species.

Projects that are on prime agricultural soils or on land that contains critical habitat for rare and endangered plants and animals would not be eligible for streamlining, Caruso said.