Energy Facilities Licensing Process - Guide to Public Participation

The California Energy Commission has the exclusive authority in California to certify the construction and operation of thermal electric power plants 50 megawatts or larger and all related facilities. The Commission's thorough site certification process provides a timely review and analysis of all aspects of a proposed project, including public health, environmental impacts, safety, efficiency, and reliability..

The Commission encourages and invites all interested agencies, organizations, and individuals to take an active part in the certification process. This Web page provides a brief overview of opportunities that exist for effective participation throughout each phase of the public process. For detailed information about the Commission or any aspect of its energy facility certification process, please refer to directory at the bottom of the page.

For information about permits needed for powerplants smaller than 50 megawatts, contact the CalEPA Cal-Gold Permit Assistance Center in the area you are in at:

Three documents are available to assist developers of energy facilities.

ENERGY FACILITY LICENSING PROCESS: Natural Gas Supply Information Staff Report / Draft, December 11, 2000. (Adobe Acrobat PDF file, 24 pages, 121 kilobytes)

ENERGY FACILITY LICENSING PROCESS: Water Supply Information Staff Report / Draft, December 11, 2000. (Adobe Acrobat PDF file, 6 pages, 30 kilobytes)

ENERGY FACILITY LICENSING PROCESS: Developers Guide of Practices and Procedures Staff Report / Draft, December 7, 2000. (Adobe Acrobat PDF file, 70 pages, 195 kilobytes)


In 1974, the Legislature passed the Warren-Alquist Act (Public Resources Code Section 25000 et seq.), creating the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, more commonly known as the California Energy Commission. The Commission has five major areas of responsibility: forecasting future electricity and energy needs; licensing energy facilities to meet those needs; promoting energy efficiency; developing renewable energy resources and alternative energy generating technologies; and planning for and directing state response to energy emergencies.

Since its inception, the Energy Commission has ensured cost-effective energy policies and leading-edge technologies to help pilot California into the 21st century. Today, such energy policies and strategies are proving instrumental to developing environmentally sound solutions to permitting issues.

Energy Facilities Certification Program

The Energy Commission ensures that energy facilities are licensed in an expeditious and environmentally acceptable manner. The energy facilities certification process is designed to be rigorous, fair, and consistent, while eliminating duplication and regulatory uncertainty

The Commission's siting process provides:

  • Review by independent staff with technical expertise in public health and safety, environmental sciences; engineering, and reliability
  • Simultaneous review and full participation by all state and local agencies, as well as coordination with federal agencies
  • One regulatory permit
  • A decision within a specific time frame
  • Full opportunity for participation by public and interest groups

Although all energy facilities are considered in the Energy Commission's planning and forecasting processes, the power plant site certification process applies to thermal energy facilities that produce 50 megawatts (MW) or more of electricity. Power plants below that threshold are permitted by several other, usually local, agencies.

Small Power Plant Exemptions

The Energy Commission can exempt from its licensing authority thermal generation projects of between 50 and 100 megawatts that have no major impacts. Energy Commission staff produces an environmental document that, when approved by the full Commission, exempts a project from the Commission licensing process. The document, called an Initial Study/Negative Declaration, if no mitigation is recommended, or an Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration, if staff recommends the incorporation mitigation measures, can then be the environmental document used by the agency with jurisdiction to issue permits to construct the project.

Role of the Commissioners

The five members of the Energy Commission are appointed by the Governor to staggered five-year terms. Senate Rules Committee approval is required. By law, four members of the Energy Commission have professional training in specific areas -- engineering and physical science, environmental protection, economics, and law. The fifth Commissioner is from the public-at-large.

During the energy facilities certification and small power plant exemption processes, two commissioners are chosen to oversee all hearings, workshops, and related proceedings for a specific project. This two-member "committee" will make recommendations to the other Commissioners before final action for certification or exemption is determined at a public hearing(s) of the full five-member Commission.

The Hearing Adviser's Office represents and provides legal advice to the committee appointed to oversee each licensing proceeding. The Hearing Adviser often conducts, and can temporarily preside over, an energy facility committee hearing.

Role of the Commission Staff

The Commission's staff, which includes a full range of environmental and engineering experts, is a party in a power plant licensing procedure charged with providing the Energy Commission with an independent assessment of the project. The staff's function is to review information provided by the applicant; coordinate with other federal, state, and local agencies; do necessary field studies; and prepare and present testimony in hearings. The staff also implements a compliance-monitoring program to ensure that power plants are constructed and operated according to the conditions of certification.

Docket Unit

The Energy Commission's Docket Unit is the repository for official records of all Commission rulemaking and regulatory proceedings, including certification or exemption for energy facilities. Upon request, the unit provides copies of docketed materials at a nominal charge when such documents are not available online, from the Energy Commission Library, or the Publications Unit, located at 1516 Ninth Street in Sacramento. In certain instances, copies of docketed material also are available at selected public libraries throughout California and in communities affected by a proposed facility. Documents filed electronically with the Docket Unit are also available on the Energy Commission website.

Role of the Public Adviser

The Energy Commission nominates and the Governor appoints a Public Adviser who is responsible for ensuring that the public and other interested parties have full opportunities to participate in the Commission's proceedings, including the certification of energy facilities. The Public Adviser affords California citizens the unique opportunity to be a part of energy decision making which could affect their lives. Appointed by the Governor to a three-year term, the Public Adviser has the primary responsibility of fostering public understanding of, and participation in, the certification process.

The Public Adviser does not act as the public's legal counsel before the Commission but rather advises the public on effective ways to participate in the proceedings.

Methods of Public Participation

List Serve:

Interested persons can be assured of notification of upcoming Energy Commission meetings, workshops, hearings, and site visits pertaining to a proposed power plant licensing case by signing up to be notified by the Commission’s List Serve. Persons may subscribe on each project Web page, do so at any of the workshops or hearings on the project, or by calling the Public Adviser's toll-free number: 800-822-6228. The automated email lists also assist in informing the public about documents filed in a licensing or exemption case, along with notices, and announcements. List serves are created for each siting case or small power plant exemption (SPPE) proceeding as staff begins to process an application.

Informal Participation:

In addition to signing up for List Serve notifications individuals also are encouraged to attend Commission meetings on a case of particular interest to them. At these meetings, the public always has an opportunity to state their views, either orally or in writing. The public also has the opportunity to hear the positions of the other parties and decide if individual interests are being protected. At this level of participation, public comments to the Commissioners will be considered, but will not have the effect of formal evidence and, therefore, will not be sufficient, alone, to support a decision on any issue before the Commissioners.

Intervenor Status:

To intervene formally in a case, individuals must petition the Energy Commission committee in a particular case for "intervenor status." Intervenors are a full party to the proceedings, with the same rights and obligations as the other parties, such as the applicant and the staff. Intervenors have the right to present evidence and witnesses, the opportunity to obtain information from the other parties, the right to cross-examine the witnesses of the other parties at public hearings, and the right to receive all documents filed in the case. Intervenors also will have the duty to send copies of all filings to the other parties, answer data requests from other parties, and submit witnesses to cross-examination by other parties. Intervenor evidence can be used by the Commission as the basis for any part of the final decision. The Public Adviser will assist anyone desiring to intervene in a proceeding.

For more information about California's power plant certification process, contact the Energy Commission at 1516 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. For prompt assistance, please use the "Mail Stop" (MS) designations listed below when addressing your correspondence to the appropriate Commission offices.

For your convenience, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses are as follows:

Public Advisor's Office - MS 10
(916) 654-4489 or toll free in California (800) 822-6228

Energy Facilities Siting Office - MS 15
(916) 654-5100

Dockets Unit - MS 4
(916) 654-5076

Publications Unit - MS 13
(916) 654-5200

Media & Public Communications Office - MS 29
(916) 654-4989