Site Certification Process General Overview

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CEQA Equivalent:

The Commission's regulatory process, including the evidentiary record and associated analyses, is functionally equivalent to the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report. (Pub. Res. Code, § 21080.5.) During certification proceedings, the Commission acts as lead state agency under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (Pub. Res. Code, §§ 25519 (c), 21000 et seq.) The process is designed to complete the review within a specified time period, typically one year. A certificate issued by the Commission is in lieu of other state and local permits.

The Commission's certification process provides a thorough review and analysis of all aspects of a proposed power plant project. During this process, a comprehensive examination of a project's potential economic, public health and safety, reliability, engineering, and environmental impacts are conducted.

Public Participation:

The Commission's process allows for and encourages public participation so that members of the public may become involved either informally or on a formal level as intervenor parties who have the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. Public participation is encouraged at every stage of the process.

The Process Begins:

The process begins when an applicant submits, or files, an Application for Certification (AFC). Commission staff reviews the data submitted as part of the AFC and makes a recommendation to the Commission on whether the AFC contains adequate information to begin the certification process. After the Commission determines an AFC contains sufficient threshold information, it appoints a Committee of two commissioners to conduct the formal certification process. The Committee issues a Scheduling Order to establish the timeline for filing documents and holding certain meetings from the first public meeting, the Informational Meeting, up to the formal hearings.

Staff Analysis:

The initial portion of the certification process is focused on public outreach and awareness of the proposed project, as well as on obtaining necessary technical information. During this time, the Commission staff (Staff) sponsors public workshops at which intervenors, agency representatives, and members of the public meet with Commission staff and the applicant to discuss, clarify, and negotiate pertinent issues.

Staff publishes its initial technical evaluation of the project in its Preliminary Staff Assessment (PSA), which is made available for public comment. Staff's responses to public comment on the PSA and its complete analyses and recommendations are published in the Final Staff Assessment (FSA).

Prehearing Conference:

Following this, the Committee conducts a Prehearing Conference to assess the adequacy of available information, identify issues, and determine the positions of the parties. Based on information presented at this event, the Committee issues a Hearing Order to schedule formal evidentiary hearings. At the evidentiary hearings, all formal parties, including intervenors, may present sworn testimony, which is subject to cross-examination by other parties and questioning by the Committee. Members of the public may offer oral or written comments at these hearings. Evidence submitted at the hearings provides the basis for the Committee's analysis and recommendations to the full Commission and part of the evidentiary record.

The Presiding Member’s Proposed Decision:

The Committee's analysis and recommendations are presented in the PMPD, which determines a project's conformity with applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards and provides recommendations to the full Commission. The PMPD is available for a 30-day public comment period. Depending upon the extent of revisions necessary after considering comments received during this period, the Committee may elect to publish a revised version. If so, the Revised PMPD triggers an additional 15-day public comment period.

The Decision:

Finally, the full Commission decides whether to accept, reject, or modify the Committee's recommendations at a public hearing.

Throughout the licensing process, members of the Committee, and ultimately the Commission, serve as fact-finders and decision-makers. Other parties, including the applicant, Commission staff, and formal intervenors, function independently with equal legal status. An "ex parte" rule prohibits parties from communicating on substantive matters with the decision-makers, their staffs, or the assigned hearing officer unless these communications are made on the public record.

The Office of the Public Adviser is available to assist the public in participating in all aspects of the certification proceeding.