CEC Releases Offshore Wind Permitting Roadmap that Proposes Several Permitting Pathways

May 4, 2023

Energy Law

The California Energy Commission (“CEC”), on April 28, 2023, released an Offshore Wind Energy Permitting Roadmap that builds on the Draft Conceptual Permitting Roadmap the CEC published in December 2022. (See Downey Brand’s previous legal alert here.) AB 525 requires the CEC to develop a permitting roadmap that describes time frames and milestones for a coordinated, comprehensive, and efficient permitting process for wind energy facilities off the California coast.

The December 2022 Draft Conceptual Permitting roadmap outlined one permitting framework that relied on interagency agreements and coordination plans and assumed that these could be implemented without new laws. But the CEC decided that it is important to evaluate additional options and suggestions before deciding on the best permitting pathway. The recently released Permitting Roadmap goes more in-depth on state permitting processes and introduces additional permitting approaches for consideration in developing the final roadmap. It describes and evaluates several coordinated permitting approaches, a single consolidated permitting approach, and two coordinated environmental review approaches, which are described further below.

As a preliminary assessment, the CEC is recommending that one or more of the coordinated permitting and environmental review approaches be implemented.

Coordinated Permitting Approaches

The Permitting Roadmap first describes a “coordinated team approach” by which federal and state agencies coordinate permitting actions through a formal entity established by a memorandum of understanding and planning agreements. Two examples of such coordinated efforts are described in the Permitting Roadmap: the Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) and the San Francisco Bay Restoration Regulatory Integration Team (BRRIT). Another option is to identify one state agency to serve as a lead coordinator (or project manager) for all state agencies while coordinating information needs with the federal agencies and project applicants. The final approach posed involves developing a coordinated state application process that allows for concurrent agency review of project application materials. The CEC will also explore options for concurrent permitting, to the extent feasible. It may be possible, and prudent, to implement multiple coordinated permitting approaches.

Consolidated Permitting Approach

Another option is for the State to consolidate permitting by establishing a single permitting agency with authority to permit offshore wind-related components located within state-jurisdictional waters. This approach would require legislative action, and it may be difficult to harmonize multiple permits and reviews in a manner that creates efficiencies. The new agency’s need to develop the technical and regulatory expertise to carry out complex permitting requirements, instead of relying on existing expertise, could contribute to permitting delays. The Permitting Roadmap advises against a consolidated permitting approach and finds that a coordinated approach may be more appropriate to streamline permitting while making best use of existing agency expertise.

Coordinated Environmental Review Approaches

Lastly, the Permitting Roadmap describes two approaches for coordinating environmental review. The first option is developing a joint federal and state agency NEPA and CEQA review process, which would provide required information and analyses for all permitting agencies to complete their environmental review obligations. The second option is developing a programmatic environmental impact report, under CEQA, to evaluate the general impacts. Future project-specific environmental review documents would then tier from the programmatic document. A programmatic EIR could offer several benefits, including reducing redundancy and overall paperwork, and allowing the lead agency to consider broad policy alternatives and program wide mitigation measures at an early stage in the planning process

Next Steps

The CEC is undertaking public outreach to gather input on the different options outlined in the report and anticipates including a final permitting roadmap as part the AB 525 offshore wind strategic plan, which is due by June 30, 2023. Efficient permitting will be key to meeting California’s ambitious goals of producing 2,000–5,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 25,000 MW by 2045.