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San Luis Obispo County, California

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 > County of San Luis Obispo > Planning and Building > Renewable Energy Streamlining Program (RESP)

Renewable Energy Streamlining Program (RESP)

San Luis Obispo County has developed this Renewable Energy Streamlining Program, (RESP) to streamline permitting of certain renewable energy projects in the most suitable locations in the unincorporated area of the county. This is accomplished through revisions to county ordinances and policies (the Coastal Zone is not part of this program).  The goal of streamlining is to increase the certainty of the permitting process and reduce the time it takes to approve renewable energy development projects.  The streamlining Program and the Draft EIR together seek to balance the encouragement of renewable energy with the protection of natural resources.  This effort was funded by a grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC).

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The Planning Commission held the first public hearing for the Renewable Energy Streamlining Program (RESP) on January 22, 2015. The second hearing was held on Thursday February 5, 2015 and the third hearing is scheduled for February 26th. Here are the links to the staff reports:

January 22, 2015

February 5, 2015

February 26, 2015

The Planning Commission also had a study session to learn about the RESP on January 8, 2015. Here is the link to that staff report.

The Final EIR has been prepared for the RESP. The Final EIR consists of the Draft EIR, comments received on the Draft EIR, the County’s responses to those comments, and any revisions to the EIR based on comments and corrections.

Streamlining the permitting process for renewable energy projects is proposed in three ways:

  1. Establish Zoning Clearance approval for smaller renewable energy projects that provide power primarily for onsite uses.  Zoning Clearance approval does not include environmental review, public hearings or extensive application review.  An application that meets strict performance standards to protect resources can proceed without further review. 
  2. Establish shortened application processing times through Site Plan Review for projects that can meet performance standards such as soil types and development on previously disturbed land.  Site Plan Review, which can require preparation of special studies (e.g. biological resource studies), to ensure that natural resources are identified and protected.
  3. Creation of Renewable Energy (RE) combining designation for larger renewable energy projects.  The RE designations are circles, 5 and 10 miles in diameter centered on the electrical sub stations around the county.  Larger projects in these areas are designed to send power to the electrical grid with no on site electric use.  Electrical sub stations are the locations where these larger projects would tie into the grid.  The size of the designations allows project proponents and landowners the flexibility to be part of the program if site characteristics (e.g. slope, vegetation, exposure) are conducive to a renewable energy project.  Projects in the RE designation have lower permit requirements than projects located outside the RE designation.

Renewable energy projects are defined in 4 “tiers” with Tier 1 consisting of small projects less than 20 acres in size all the way up to Tier 4 which could cover over 160 acres.  Also included are renewable energy projects that are accessory to uses on the site such as the solar facilities found at some wineries. These smaller facilities that supply electric power for on site use will continue to be permitted with a Zoning Clearance and building permit. The following table provides a synopsis* of the tiers and permitting requirements:

 

Zoning Clearance

Site Plan Review

Minor Use Permit

Conditional Use Permit

Tier 1 SEF, roof- or structure-mounted Located on the roof or structure of a conforming use or structure

Tier 1 (SEF)– 20 acres or less not on Class I or II soils and meets one of the following:

  • Previously developed or degraded lands
  • On land that is graded, disturbed or altered 

Tier 2 (SEF) – 40 acres or less outside an RE designation and meets the following;

  • Located in urban areas or rural sites designated CS or Ind
  • Not located in San Joaquin Kit Fox habitat
  • Not subject to environmental permits

Tier 3 (SEF – 160 acres or less outside RE designations

Tier 4 – more than 160 acres

 

Tier 3 (SEF) – 40 acres or less in an RE designation and meets the following:

  • Other than Open Space or Rec Categories
  • Not subject to environmental permits
  • Not site on Important Ag Soils

 

Tier 1 wind energy – roof or structure mounted

 Tier 3 (SEF) – 160 acres or less in an RE designation and meets the following:

  • In the CS, Ind or Ag categories
  • Not subject to environmental permits
  • Not on important Ag Soils 

Tier 2 (WEC) – Ground mounted and meets the following:

  • Up to 100 feet tall
  • No more than 2 mw capacity

Tier 3 (WEC) – Greater than 100 feet or rated at more than 2 mw

 

As indicated in the table, permit levels and development requirements are keyed to size, on or off site use of the electricity generated by the facility, location in and out of the RE combining designation, soil type and level of land disturbance. 

Most of the projects defined in Tiers 1 through 4 currently would require at least a Minor Use Permit with individual environmental review and public hearings (exceptions are roof top installations and small ground mounted, accessory solar facilities).  The proposed program seeks a substantial increase in certainty of the outcome and substantially less time to complete the application process, especially for projects meeting the standards for Zoning Clearances and Site Plan review.

The RESP requires revisions to many chapters of the Land Use Ordinance (LUO) along with revisions to policy documents such as the Conservation and Open Space Element (COSE) and the Land Use and Circulation Element.  The following are the revisions proposed to each chapter of the LUO and policy documents.  These revisions are in legislative format with additions to text in red and underlined and deletions crossed out Please note that the changes in section 22.32 reflect the important new development standards for renewable energy projects.

Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR)

The draft EIR is a “programmatic” EIR that evaluates the potential impacts of changes to our policy documents (general plan elements) and the Land Use Ordinance (Title 22).   The CEQA Guidelines define a Program EIR: “a program EIR is an EIR which may be prepared on a series of actions that can be characterized as one large project…”  In this case, the proposed changes to policies and ordinances to streamline renewable energy development are the series of actions that reflect one large project.   The CEQA Guidelines further state that a “program EIR will allow the Lead Agency to consider broad policy alternatives and program wide mitigation measures at an early time when the agency has greater flexibility to deal with basic problems or cumulative impacts…” 

The DEIR evaluates environmental issues such as aesthetics, agricultural, biological and cultural resources, air quality and water.   Alternatives to the proposed program are also analyzed and ranked against the proposed program.  The following is a summary of the major points in the Draft EIR:

Aesthetics

While the existing and updated County Code requirements will minimize the visual impacts of solar installations, the complete screening of solar electric facilities from view (via vegetation, fencing, etc.) is infeasible and counterproductive due to the need for sunlight to reach the facilities. As such, there is no mitigation feasible to address this impact, and it is considered significant, unavoidable, and adverse (Class I).

Agricultural Resources

The proposed program could lead to the conversion of Important Agricultural Soils to nonagricultural uses (Class I impact).  This is true for all ground mounted solar facilities, including smaller systems for onsite use and larger facilities that send power to the grid.   One of the reasons for this finding is the large proposed size of the RE combining designation.  Alternatives to the proposed project such as a smaller RE combining designation (e.g. 5 miles around a substation rather than 10 miles) can reduce this impact.

Biological Resources

The impacts to Biological Resources are an example of the limits to County streamlining actions.  Federal and state agencies are in charge of endangered species regulation and a process where effects on these species can be identified is required.  In order to streamline the County permit process but still maintain consistency with other agencies’ actions, performance standards such as developing on already disturbed sites, site plan review requirements for biological reports and exempting only smaller on site renewable energy facilities with a Zoning Clearance are proposed.  In this way, no Class I biological resources impacts are identified.

Alternatives

 As noted above, the new Renewable Energy designations are proposed to be 10 miles around electrical sub stations.  One alternative that will reduce potential agricultural resource impacts is a reduction of the RE designations to 5 miles around sub stations.  This alternative reduces the potential impacts to a smaller area but may still offer enough site selection flexibility to make the program successful.

  

If you have questions about the RESP or require additional information, please contact James Caruso at jcaruso@co.slo.ca.us or at (805) 781-5702.

Renewable Energy Box1

 

 

Project Timeline

The RESP will proceed in six tasks or steps:

  • Resource, Infrastructure and Constraints Mapping
  • Stake holder Outreach
  • Ordinance Preparation
  • CEQA Analysis
  • Public Meetings and Hearings

RESP Timeline

Documents

Sign-up for Notification of Public Hearings

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Email Address:
 
Comments:
 

You can also direct questions or comments to James Caruso, San Luis Obispo County Senior Planner at jcaruso@co.slo.ca.us or (805) 781-5702.

Interviews

The County and our consultant team will be interviewing industry stakeholders and the public to learn more about streamlining from different perspectives. Interviews are scheduled for October through November. Please email us if you wish to discuss renewable energy streamlining.

Mapping Example

This map is an example of resources that need to be identified for this streamlining program. The map puts several resources together on one map including solar potential, electrical substations and transmission lines.

RESP Substations Map