During its May 18 voting meeting, the California Public Utilities Commission (Commission) voted to open a new rulemaking proceeding that will consider improvements to its permitting procedures for electric infrastructure projects that fall under its jurisdiction.  The Commission’s action is driven by increased legislative and policy interest in reducing barriers to energy infrastructure development to meet the state’s increasing renewable energy and electrification goals, while also ensuring grid reliability.  

Under the Commission’s General Order 131-D, public utilities are prohibited from modifying or constructing new electric generation infrastructure, which includes electric generating plants or battery storage facilities, substations, transmission lines (over 200 kV), power lines (50 kV to 200 kV), and distribution lines (below 50 kV), without first complying with applicable procedures and obtaining Commission authorization.  This generally entails either filing a formal application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN), which can take several months if not years to conclude, or obtaining a permit to construct from the Commission.  Under legislation enacted last year, Senate Bill 529 (Hertzberg, 2022), the Commission is directed to update GO 131-D to authorize utilities “to use the permit-to-construct process or claim an exemption under [the GO]” rather than submitting an application for a CPCN. 

The new Order Instituting Rulemaking (OIR) adopted by the Commission proposes two options for consideration: (1) proposed revisions to GO 131-D consistent with the requirements of SB 529 (this option is provided in Attachment A); or (2) proposed revisions to GO 131-D  that are consistent with the requirements of SB 529 and are further designed to “provide a clearer, more efficient and consistent [permitting] process.”  (Option 2 is provided in Attachment B.)  Specifically, this second option provided in Attachment B proposes amendments to:

  • Reflect changes in Commission Rules and other regulations that have occurred since GO 131-D was modified in 1995;
  • Provide the Commission with better cost information for electrical infrastructure projects;
  • Create a process for the permitting of battery storage projects;
  • Respond to requests from resource agencies for the Commission to serve as the lead agency pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for all electric infrastructure projects requiring discretionary permits;
  • Increase cost transparency for all projects subject to GO 131-D;
  • Provide better notice to local governments of projects in their locality; and
  • Better align GO 131-D with GO 96-B.

Interested stakeholders can submit comments on these proposals within 30 days of the Commission’s issuance of the OIR, and reply comments may be filed 15 days thereafter.