California has two more laws in place to help facilitate development of renewable energy projects after Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 267 and Senate Bill 618 over the weekend. 

SB 267 modifies the existing requirements to prepare a water supply assessment for projects that meet certain size thresholds.  Under the new law, a photovoltaic or wind energy generation facility that demands no more than 75 acre-feet of water per year is exempt from the water supply assessment requirements.  By eliminating this aspect of project analysis, this law is expected to help reduce the time and cost associated with permitting new photovoltaic and wind projects, which typically do not have high water demand.

SB 618 includes two separate sets of amendments to the current law that are intended to facilitate renewable energy projects.  First, the bill amends California Fish and Game Code provisions that relate to fully protected species.  Prior to SB 618, the California Endangered Species Act prohibited harming or disturbing (also known as “taking”) species that have been listed as fully protected.  The new law allows for incidental take of fully protected species where a conservation plan has been approved and is being implemented to ensure protection of those species.  This bill is particularly important to wind development in California, which has been struggling to address potential project impacts to the Golden Eagle and California Condor, two species that are listed as fully protected.  The bill also creates a mechanism for Williamson Act contracts, which are essentially agricultural preserve easements, to be converted to solar use easements under circumstances where the Department of Conservation determines that the property lacks agricultural value due to soil conditions and other considerations.

These new laws are the most recent in a series of reforms the Governor has signed to facilitate renewable energy development in California.  SB 16 and ABX1 13, companion bills which were signed by the Governor on September 22, 2011 and August 29, 2011, respectively, are intended to streamline California Department of Fish and Game’s permitting process.  In addition, we previously reported on AB 900, which streamlines the appeal process for certain large “leadership projects” in California.  AB 900 was signed by the Governor on September 27, 2011.  While AB 900  is not specific to energy projects, there are likely to be energy projects that meet the threshold for and qualify as a leadership project, thus benefitting from the streamlined appellate process set forth in that new law.