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Distributed Generation: Doomed by Deployment Details?

The industry makes strides, but messy issues like air quality and building codes could be showstoppers.
Fortnightly Magazine - February 1 2001

by air districts (thresholds for generator size vary from district to district), authorizing CARB to regulate such machines. CARB is holding working groups for stakeholders to develop the standardized emission requirements.

Has that process been sympathetic thus far to the concerns of industrial manufacturers?

"It's too soon to tell," says Lindh. "If it's like the energy commission process, then I think we have every expectation of developing something useful."

Emissions legislation is not necessarily bad news for the industrials. With its push for uniform standards, SB 1298 is good news to any business that operates in a state chopped up into 30-plus air quality districts, each with its own emissions limits and regulations. But while SB 1298 focuses on smaller generators, industrials are concerned about some of its ramifications.

Permit Streamlining:
One Issue Down With little at risk in the matter, stakeholders find much to agree on.

Apparently, the development of the California Energy Commission's permit streamlining report, produced with the input of stakeholders ranging from Southern California Edison (SCE) to the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, didn't stir much controversy. Distributed Generation: CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] Review and Permit Streamlining," (publication # 700-00-014, documents/index.html) was issued Dec. 20.

Few Quarrels. "It was a good process," says Sheryl Carter, senior policy analyst at Natural Resources Defense Council. "It was a very public process."

Manuel Alvarez, manager for regulatory affairs at SCE, agrees. Speaking of participating stakeholders, "They're comfortable with the process, and they'll deal with the results. … I'd be surprised, quite frankly, if anybody who was involved would really complain about it."

But all the good feelings may be because permitting is not the most important issue at stake for the various participants.

"These permitting issues are not the things that are really holding up installation of DG in industrial facilities," says Karen Lindh, principal at Lindh & Associates, a consulting and government affairs firm that represented the California Manufacturers & Technology Association in the CEC's DG working group.

State vs. Local Power. If there was one issue of greatest concern, participants say, it was the relationship between state and local governments and the question of local autonomy. Stakeholders from various camps expressed concern that the report might recommend a stronger state role at the expense of local authority.

"To me, that was the biggest point of controversy," Alvarez says.

In the end, however, the report recommended that the state serve more as an educator and consultant in assisting local jurisdictions make DG siting decisions. In this regard, it calls for additional funding from the state legislature.

Both Lindh and Alvarez agree that the report does not attempt to hand the state any more power. NRDC's Carter, who agrees that the recommendations don't usurp local authority, says that the coordination of local and state processes goes the furthest in streamlining permitting as a whole. "A lot of [state and local efforts] can be done parallel, and some of it might be duplicated," she says, explaining that better coordination between the state and localities can save time and effort.