Newly Signed SB 286 Streamlines and Clarifies Permitting Process for Offshore Wind

Energy Law  

October 19, 2023

In an important step toward meeting California’s goal of producing up to 5,000 MW of offshore wind energy by 2030, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 286 into law on October 7, 2023. Authored by California Senate Majority Leader Michael McGuire (North Coast/North Bay), this new law streamlines California’s offshore wind permitting process, designates responsibility for California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) obligations, and outlines strategies to protect groups whose interests may be affected by offshore wind projects. The key provisions of SB 286 are further detailed below.

Creates Consolidated Permitting Approach to Offshore Wind Development: SB 286 modifies the requirements imposed on developers by the California Coastal Act of 1976. Under the Coastal Act, prospective developers of projects located in the coastal zone are often required to obtain coastal development permits from the California Coastal Commission (CCC) or local governments with certified local coast programs, in addition to other permits required by law. Likewise, a project with multiple components can require multiple coastal development permits.  The CCC can issue a consolidated CDP if a proposed project requires a coastal development permit from both the CCC and a local government with a certified local coastal program.

Provided the applicant, local government, and CCC consent and public participation is not impaired, SB 286 authorizes the CCC to process a consolidated coastal development permit for any new development that is associated with, appurtenant to, or necessary for the construction and operation of offshore wind energy projects.  This includes necessary transmission facilities located in the coastal zone.  The CCC is required to forward an applicant’s coastal development permit application to the local government agency for review and comment before giving final approval.

Authorizes State Lands Commission to Serve as CEQA Lead Agency: SB 286 designates the California State Lands Commission (SLC) as the lead agency to ensure offshore wind energy projects comply with CEQA. In its role, the SLC must coordinate with the CCC and other relevant agencies to prepare environmental review documents required by CEQA and the National Environmental Policy of 1969 (NEPA) for proposed offshore wind developments.

Requires Formation of Working Group to Develop Statewide Strategy Plan to Minimize Impacts on Fisheries: To solicit the feedback of impacted stakeholders, SB 286 establishes the California Offshore Wind Energy Fisheries Working Group (Working Group). This group includes representatives from the relevant permitting and resource agencies, commercial and recreational fishing industries, offshore wind energy industry, California Native American Tribes with affected tribal fisheries, and other stakeholders, as determined by the CCC.

The CCC must convene the Working Group before January 1, 2025. The Working Group is then required to develop a statewide strategy by January 1, 2026, that proposes ways to minimize impacts of offshore wind on ocean fisheries, including the application of best practices in compensating impacted stakeholders. After the statewide strategy is developed, the CCC must review and adopt it on or before May 1, 2026. CCC’s finalized statewide strategy will bind all future applicants seeking approval or concurrence from a state agency for an offshore wind energy project.

Directs the Working Group to Develop a Framework for Compensatory Mitigation for Unavoidable Impacts: Finally, SB 286 tasks the Working Group with creating a framework for reasonable compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts associated with offshore wind energy projects. The framework must include a payment structure to reasonably compensate commercial, tribal, and recreational fisheries and impacted commercial fish processors. SLC—or a local trustee of granted public trust lands standing in its place—must consider reasonable compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts to fishing and tribal interests when granting a lease for an offshore wind energy project. In addition, SLC is required to deposit revenues generated from the leases into a newly created Offshore Wind Energy Resiliency Fund. Upon appropriation by the Legislature, the fund will be made available for reasonable compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts.

The passage of SB 286 is another significant step toward California’s development of offshore wind energy projects. With clear deadlines upcoming, it will be beneficial to monitor updates from the CCC for details on the consolidated permit process and efforts to gather input from impacted communities. To read more about California’s offshore wind targets, read here.