New Requirements for Local Energy Storage Permitting Processes

The State is taking numerous steps to encourage energy storage in California. Cities and counties will have important roles to play as well. Assembly Bill (AB) 546, passed last year, includes specific local permitting obligations. SMW attorney Erica McConnell provides an overview of the new law.

Energy storage has sometimes been referred to as the “holy grail” of clean energy transformation, in part because it has the potential to enable the more widespread use of variable renewable energy resources like solar. As energy storage prices have plummeted over the past several years, interest in the technology has surged. California is taking a leadership role in promoting energy storage by implementing incentives for energy storage projects and energy storage procurement mandates for the State’s investor-owned utilities, among other policies.

Local jurisdictions will necessarily play a critical role because they will oversee the permitting processes for at least some energy storage systems, just as they handle permitting for other clean energy technologies, like rooftop solar. In 2017, the California Legislature passed AB 546, which establishes local requirements related to permitting certain energy storage systems, including customer-sited battery systems, such as the Tesla Powerwall. These requirements are generally intended to promote installation of these systems.

Specifically, under new Government Code section 65850.8, cities and counties will have to make all forms and other documents associated with the permitting of certain energy storage systems available on a publicly accessible web site, if they have one. In addition, cities and counties will have to allow for electronic submission of a permit application and associated documentation, which may happen via email, the Internet, or fax. They will have to permit electronic signatures on all forms, applications, and other documentation in lieu of a wet signature, unless they can justify not doing so.

Larger cities and counties, with populations of 200,000 or more residents, must comply with these requirements by September 30, 2018. Smaller cities must comply by January 31, 2019.

In addition to these local mandates, AB 546 authorizes the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, in consultation with local building officials, the storage industry, utilities, and other stakeholders, to provide guidance on energy storage permitting. Such guidance may cover streamlining, best practices, and potential factors for consideration by local government in establishing fees for permitting and inspection. Cities and counties may find the State guidance helpful in further modifying their permitting processes to encourage energy storage in their jurisdictions.

Notably, the Legislature has passed similar bills in the past intended to streamline local permitting for rooftop solar (AB 2188) and electric vehicle charging stations (AB 1236). Like these prior bills, AB 546 seeks to smooth the path for a new clean energy technology as the State continues to strive to meet its ambitious climate and renewable energy goals.

For more information about AB 546 and its requirements, contact Erica McConnell.

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