In a much-needed effort to speed up the permitting required to build all the new renewable energy projects being proposed in the state, California Governor Jerry Brown plans to add four positions at the state Department of Fish and Game, along with funding for outside experts.
It’s intended to ease the bureaucratic delays that have long aggravated developers; industry and environmental groups told Climatewire.
Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife said Fish and Game “just didn’t have the bodies to deal with all the [renewable] technologies.”
The positions Brown would add are aimed at shortening the clock on approvals for “incidental take” permits issued by Fish and Game. Those clearances are required in California whenever a project might harm species listed as threatened or endangered under state law.
Developers must list each affected species and are required to adopt measures to reduce harm.
But rather than put the new hires on the budget, an additional fee of $25,000, and up to $200,000, depending on the complexity of the endangerment to be determined for each application – would cover the extra costs of assessing it.
The fees will generate at least $7.5 million to pay for the permitting expertise needed, both within the department, as well as the outside experts that have been needed.
The department already levies an application fee of $75,000 to pay for all or some of the department’s cost of processing incidental take permit applications, and it has eighteen permitting officers.
But with the surge in renewables on California – about 300 applications are expected to be filed for a Fish and Game clearance this year alone – they must add four more.
To pay the new salaries, a bill passed by Democrats last year would charge extra fees depending on project size; small projects would be $25,000, projects over 250 MW would be $75,000.
Passed last year, ABX1 13 would
“additionally require the department, until January 1, 2016, to collect, and an owner or developer of an eligible
project to pay, a permit application fee of either $25,000, $50,000, or $75,000, as specified, to the department for deposit into the Renewable Resources Permitting Account, to be established in the Fish and Game Preservation Fund,to pay for all or a portion of the department’s cost of processing incidental take permit applications and specified administrative expenses”.
The state cannot keep any money over and above the cost of processing each permit application, according to the bill. Otherwise, “that would be a tax,” according to officials at the Finance Department.
Until now, wait times have been up to a year, and with no certainty of a yes or no after any particular time. “There’s just a huge logjam,” said Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association.
“I know it’s been very frustrating to developers to not hear back, or they’ll hear back with more questions, more questions. They’ll never get an answer.”
Until now, developers have had to hire their own outside experts, on their own dime to find and list endangered species on proposed sites – such as biologists to hand count tortoises – and have borne the expense, along with the uncertainty, so for them, the measure reduces their costs, as well as greatly improving the old wait times.
Under the new law, with new blood to help speed things up, Fish and Game would then have just 60 days to approve or reject the permit application.
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