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california legislation > AB 644

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Date of Hearing: May 2, 2011

ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES
Wesley Chesbro, Chair
AB 644 (Blumenfield) - As Amended: April 25, 2011

SUBJECT
: Energy: renewable energy facility: siting

SUMMARY : Requires California Energy Commission (CEC), in
consultation with the Department of Resources Recycling and
Recovery (DRRR), Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC),
and the Department of Conservation (DOC), to (1) establish
criteria for identifying closed disposal sites, brownfields, and
degraded agricultural lands that have high potential for use as
sites for renewable generation facilities and (2) prepare a list
of lands that meet this criteria. Authorizes CEC to prepare a
program environmental impact report (PEIR) to facilitate the
siting of renewable energy projects on the listed sites.

EXISTING LAW :

1)Grants CEC exclusive authority to license thermal power plants
with a generating capacity of 50 megawatts or more. Grants
local governments the authority to issue construction permits
for the operation of power plants of less than 50 megawatts
generating capacity.

2)Establishes, pursuant to DRRR's regulations, performance
standards and minimum substantive requirements for proper
closure, postclosure maintenance, and ultimate reuse of
disposal sites in the state.

3)Defines "closed disposal site" as a disposal site that ceases
to accept solid waste and is closed in accordance with
applicable statutes, regulations, and local ordinances in
effect at the time of the closure.

4)Establishes programs under DTSC to facilitate remediation of
brownfields in the state.

5)Defines "brownfield" as property that is abandoned, idled, or
underused, due to real or perceived environmental
contamination, including soil or groundwater contamination,
the presence of underground storage tanks, or the presence of
asbestos or lead paint and that has a reasonable potential for








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economically beneficial reuse.

6)Establishes programs under DOC to protect and preserve
agricultural land in the state.

7)Authorizes, pursuant to the California Environmental Quality
Act (CEQA), the preparation of a PEIR on a series of actions
that can be characterized as one large project and are related
either (1) geographically, (2) as logical parts in the chain
of contemplated actions, (3) in connection with issuance of
rules, regulations, plans, or other general criteria to govern
the conduct of a continuing program, or (4) as individual
activities carried out under the same authorizing statutory or
regulatory authority and having generally similar
environmental effects which can be mitigated in similar ways.






































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THIS BILL :

1)Requires CEC, in consultation with the DRRR, DTSC, and DOC, to
establish (1) criteria for identifying closed disposal sites,
brownfields, and degraded agricultural lands with no access to
water that have high potential for use as sites for renewable
generation facilities with a generation capacity of less than
50 megawatts of electricity and (2) prepare a list of lands
that meet this criteria.

2)Defines "degraded agricultural land" as land that has been
mechanically disturbed, including land that has been converted
from native vegetation through plowing, bulldozing, or other
mechanical means in support of activities that change the land
cover, including, but not limited to, agricultural activities,
mining, and clearance for development purposes. Degraded
agricultural lands also includes land, based on appropriate
biological surveys, that has diminished value as habitat for
mitigation purposes for endangered, threatened, candidate, and
other sensitive species.

3)Requires the evaluation criteria to include low habitat value
for rare, endangered, and sensitive species, compatibility
with neighboring land uses, geological compatibility, and
absence of various cultural resources.

4)Authorizes CEC to prepare a PEIR to facilitate the siting of
renewable energy projects on the sites identified pursuant to
the list established pursuant to the bill.

FISCAL EFFECT : Unknown

COMMENTS :

1)Purpose of the Bill. According to the author, "closed
landfills and brownfields generally have few reuses and
present a unique opportunity for siting renewable energy...
The sites often are located close to roads and transmission
lines. While each site is different, developing state policy
that promotes reusing the land for distributive renewable
power generation, including solar and wind, could help the
state advance California's Global Warming Solutions Act."

The bill seeks to facilitate the siting of renewable energy
projects on closed disposal sites, brownfields, and degraded








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agricultural lands with no access to water located in the
state.

2)Federal Program. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) has launched an initiative called "RE-Powering America's
Land: Siting Renewable Energy on Potentially Contaminated Land
and Mine Sites" to encourage the siting of renewable energy
facilities on thousands of currently and formerly contaminated
properties and abandoned mines across the country. EPA tracks
approximately 490,000 sites and 15 million acres of
potentially contaminated properties and abandoned mines. EPA
claims that these lands are environmentally and economically
beneficial for siting renewable energy facilities because they
(1) offer thousands of acres of land with few site owners; (2)
often have critical infrastructure in place including electric
transmission lines, roads and water on-site, and are
adequately zoned for such development; (3) provide an
economically viable reuse for sites with significant cleanup
costs or low real estate development demand; (4) take the
stress off undeveloped lands for construction of new energy
facilities, preserving the land carbon sink; and (5) provide
job opportunities in urban and rural communities.

The Re-Powering America's Land Initiative Management Plan is a
complex strategy with three major goals, six objectives, and
20 action items to help developers, states, and local
governments overcome the major barriers associated with
renewable energy projects on contaminated properties and
abandoned mines. The three main goals are (1) providing
incentives and technical assistance for sitting renewable
energy on contaminated lands, (2) creating a unified federal
approach to promote siting of renewable energy contaminated
land, and (3) improve communication and sharing of data on
siting renewable energy on contaminated land to enable
stakeholders to successfully reuse sites for renewable energy.


Under the first goal of the management plan, EPA has
established, among other things, the "Re-Powering America's
Land Google Earth Tool." This tool utilizes the Google Earth
computer program to display contaminated properties and
abandoned mines in the country. According to EPA, the tool
only contains a fraction of the properties in the country that
it is attempting to target. EPA has developed a pilot
initiative that will begin this summer to explore ways to








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include state-tracked sites in the Google Earth Tool.

Another major component of the management plan involves
implementing strategies to improve outreach to stakeholders
(such as renewable energy developers, utilities, etc.), the
financial industry, and economic development groups. The
utility outreach will begin this winter.

EPA has documented several success stories with the
Re-Powering America's Land Initiative. One project in Contra
Costa County involves a one megawatt photovoltaic system.
Four other projects in the state include renewable energy
systems that are focused on powering the remediation efforts.
The largest project posted on the program's website is in
Wyoming and involves a 16.5 megawatt wind energy facility.

3)Is a State Program Needed?
The Re-Powering America's Land
Initiative is an ambitious program with several elements that
are currently being developed through a very deliberate and
planned out process. EPA has admitted that the program is in
its early stage and it is too early to determine how well the
initiative is meeting its environmental outcome goals. As
mentioned above, the program has already involved California
projects. Additionally, the program has outreach plans to
take effect this year that will further help facilitate siting
on contaminated sites tracked by the state.

The committee may wish to consider
whether the state should
take a separate path and use its resources to develop a
program focused on relatively small scale renewable energy
projects or rely on the current federal program that has gone
through a substantial planning process and will soon be
conducting outreach to the state. Either way, to avoid
duplicative work, the committee and author may wish to
consider amending the bill
to require DRRR, DTSC, and DOC to
make best efforts to work with the federal government to help
develop and utilize the Re-Powering America's Land Initiative.

4)Is a PEIR Appropriate? A PEIR may be an inappropriate tool to
use for environmental review under the bill. California's
closed disposal sites, brownfields, and degraded agricultural
lands vary substantially in terms of biology, water, size,
location, climate, terrain, contamination, and other
environmental issues. As such, it is not likely that a local
government will be able to rely on a PEIR for its








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environmental review--this negates the purpose of authorizing
the PEIR in the bill. Additionally, CEC may not be the
appropriate agency to prepare a PEIR since it does not conduct
environmental reviews of small scale renewable energy projects
like the ones proposed in the bill. The committee and author
may wish to consider amending the bill
to remove the PEIR
provision.

REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION :

Support

None on file

Opposition

None on file


Analysis Prepared by
: Mario DeBernardo / NAT. RES. / (916)
319-2092