GENERAL BACKGROUND ON THE POWERPLANT LICENSING PROCESS
The California Energy Commission (CEC) or Commission is an independent state agency whose five members (Commissioners) are appointed by the Governor. One of the CEC’s primary responsibilities is the licensing or certification of thermal electric powerplants with a size of 50 megawatts (MW) or greater.
"Thermal" means that the plant uses heat to generate electricity. The CEC therefore licenses powerplants of 50 MW or more that burn any fuel to produce steam, including geothermal plants and some solar plants. Dams (hydroelectric) and wind facilities are not thermal, and thus the Commission does not license them, regardless of size.
The Energy Commission’s licensing authority is found in the Warren-Alquist Act, effective in 1975, commencing at Public Resources Code section 25500. Today, when most applicants are private companies, the CEC’s powers replace those of local governments, who can only license thermal powerplants under 50 MW. In 1975, the applicants were utilities, whose powerplant proposals had previously been reviewed by the California Public Utilities Commission. This web site will present the individual histories of over 70 Energy Commission powerplant cases over the last quarter century.
A case is most often an Application for Certification (AFC), a full-fledged licensing proceeding. There are other variations, such as a Small Power Plant Exemption (SPPE), which will be explained in each specific SPPE history.
Each case has a unique docket number, which gives the year it was filed and the type of proceeding. For example, 99-AFC-3 would be the third AFC submitted in 1999. The company filing the AFC is called the Applicant.
Each case is presided over by a Committee, which consists of two Energy Commissioners, with the Presiding Member in charge. The Committee’s recommendation is now called the Presiding Member’s Proposed Decision. The second or associate member of the Committee normally has a subordinate role to the Presiding Member and may not fully participate in the case.
The Committee’s attorney is a Hearing Officer (Hearing Advisor) who drafts Committee documents, including orders and the decision, under direction of the Presiding Member. Final action, such as licensing a powerplant, is taken by the full Energy Commission based upon the Committee recommendations.
The Energy Commission Staff (Staff or CEC Staff) is an independent party, which means that the Staff makes its own recommendations to the Committee regarding issues such as a project’s environmental impacts. CEC Staff consists of many technical experts, coordinated by a Project Manager. The Staff Counsel (my normal role) is the attorney for the CEC Staff.
Governmental agencies at all levels may participate in CEC cases and many, such as local air districts, are required to. Anyone, from agencies, to organizations and individuals, may intervene in a proceeding, becoming a party who can present their own witnesses and evidence.
Thus, a case begins with two parties, the applicant and CEC staff. The number of interveners can be zero to dozens. The Committee has procedural control of the case, holds hearings, and resolves disagreements among the parties. It’s an administrative law process, capable of being both formal or informal. Cases can be uncontested, with all matters settled, or heavily disputed (adjudicated), with weeks of hearings in which many witnesses are called and cross-examined. Every case is different, as these histories will demonstrate.