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Calif. bill requires making storage permitting materials available online


From the August 14, 2017 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published August 11, 2017

By Bob Matyi
Contributing Writer

Legislation in California would require local governments to make energy storage permitting materials available online and allow the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to provide guidance on energy storage permitting.

At issue is AB 546, which was introduced by California Assembly member David Chiu. The measure has been approved by the state Assembly and is working its way through the California Senate.

A bill analysis prepared for the California Senate Committee on Governance and Finance said that as the amount of renewable energy generated in California increases, the need for storage increases as well. 

“At the same time, lower cost storage systems are coming onto the market, such as the Tesla Powerwall and other home batteries,” the analysis noted.  The California Energy Storage Alliance “wants to make it easier for utility users to apply for the local permits needed to install energy storage,” the bill analysis said.

"We're sponsoring it," Alexander Morris, director of policy for the California Energy Storage Alliance, said about the bill. "It's really a great bill, pretty narrow and has bipartisan support."

While California has been a leader nationwide when it comes to the growth of renewable energy supplies, the analysis points out that renewable energy is intermittent. In order for the state to continue to make advances, it will have to expand its ability to store energy, the analysis said.  “Although there are many forms of storage, distributed battery storage— located at the point of end use, will be a key way to meet this need.  Deploying this storage requires getting permits from the 540 cities and counties in California, and these permitting processes vary widely.”

AB 546 “takes a small but important step towards speeding up deployment of energy storage batteries near the retail user by requiring local governments to make their energy storage permitting materials available in the first place most people go to look for them: online,” the bill analysis said.

The measure provides a ramp-up period for smaller jurisdictions by giving them an extra year to post their permitting materials online, and those jurisdictions that don’t have websites don’t need to post them. 

The bill requires a city, county, or city and county to make all documentation and forms associated with the permitting of advanced energy storage available on its public website, if the city or county has one.

A city or county with a population of 200,000 or greater must comply by Sept. 30, 2018, while a city or county with a population of less than 200,000 has until Jan. 31, 2019. 

The city or county must allow for electronic submittal, via email, the internet, or fax, of a permit application and required documentation.

Cities and counties “shall also authorize the electronic signature on all forms, applications, and other documentation in lieu of a wet signature by an applicant, unless the city, county, or city and county determines that it is unable to accept an electronic signature on all forms, applications, and other documents and makes a finding that states the reasons for that inability,” the legislation states.

“AB 546 also helps cities, counties, and the energy storage industry learn from best practices by making clear that OPR can provide guidance on energy storage permitting, thereby supporting the rapid deployment of this needed technology,” the bill analysis said.

Specifically, AB 546 allows OPR to provide guidance on energy storage permitting, including streamlining, best practices, and potential factors for consideration by local government in establishing fees for permitting and inspection. OPR would need to offer this guidance in consultation with various parties including the state fire marshal, the storage industry, the California Public Utilities Commission and other stakeholders.

AB 546 applies only to advanced energy storage systems that use batteries and are interconnected to the electrical grid through an existing retail customer interconnection.

Barring an unforeseen delay or obstacle, AB 546 should pass the Legislature before the current session ends on Sept. 15 and be forwarded to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown for his signature, said Morris.

Because of the bill's largely non-controversial nature, Morris expects the governor would sign the bill into law.

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