Renewable and Geothermal Energy

Photo of Fort Bragg courtesy Tatiana Shakulina, CSLC Staff

The Commission and its staff provide leadership and expertise on renewable and geothermal energy development on state-owned lands. California's landmark renewable portfolio standard requires investor-owned utilities and electric service providers to increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resources to 33 percent by 2020. Governor Brown has set a more ambitious goal of procuring 50 percent of California's power from renewable energy sources by 2030.

The Commission's work to facilitate renewable energy focuses on marine renewable energy, desert renewable energy, and geothermal energy. Staff processes applications for renewable energy projects, participates in stakeholder and interagency working groups that develop strategies to achieve science-based renewable energy development in the marine environment, and facilitates renewable energy development in a panoply of other ways.

Future endeavors the Commission may pursue include review and implementation of solar and wind projects in the desert, developing offshore wave, tidal, and wind resources, and scientific evaluation and exploration of alternative renewable energy resources, such as biomass and algae.

  • Desert Renewable Energy

    The Commission owns over 340,000 acres of school lands in the California desert that have abundant potential for renewable energy development. Although the Commission would like to take advantage of this potential by leasing its school lands for renewable energy projects, most lands are not contiguous and exist in a checkerboard pattern throughout the desert, making large renewable energy development challenging. The Commission is working to consolidate the lands into sites that have potential for larger renewable energy development.

    AB 982 (Skinner), Chapter 485, Statutes of 2011, requires the Commission to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of the Interior (via the Bureau of Land Management) to facilitate land exchanges that consolidate school land parcels into contiguous holdings for large renewable energy development. Exchanges must prioritize renewable energy development that is consistent with the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), which is a state-federal planning effort to facilitate renewable energy production in the California desert.

    On October 1, 2015, the Commission and the Bureau of Land Management signed a Memorandum of Intent for a proposed land exchange of approximately 61,000 acres of non-revenue generating school lands in federal wilderness and other conservation areas for approximately 5,600 acres of federal lands with the potential for, or previously developed with, renewable energy facilities. The lands are located in San Bernardino, Inyo and Riverside counties and within the DRECP planning area. Participating in the DRECP planning process and entering into land exchanges allows the Commission to increase the potential for school lands in the desert to generate revenue and help achieve California's renewable energy development goals.

  • Marine Renewable Energy

    On May 12, 2016, Governor Brown requested that the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management establish an Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force, charged with exploring the development of offshore renewable energy in state and federal waters off of California. The Bureau has convened similar task forces in 13 coastal states, which allow for coordination between federal, state, tribal, and stakeholder interests regarding offshore renewable energy projects. The Commission expects to play a significant role in this Task Force because of its involvement in renewable energy development, its experience in analyzing environmental impacts and concerns, and its jurisdiction over the Public Trust submerged lands of California.

    The planning, permitting, and development of emerging technologies, such as marine renewable energy, are a challenge and require careful balancing of clean energy goals with the highest levels of environmental protection. Marine renewable energy devices have been deployed elsewhere in the world, but no devices have been deployed in California waters. There is increasing interest in offshore wind, wave, and tidal energy development in California to achieve a clean energy economy. The Commission facilitates coordination and provides leadership in science and the regulatory pathways necessary to facilitate these technologies, primarily through its participation in the Marine Renewable Energy Working Group.

    In 2013, Commission staff issued an informational report titled Marine Renewable Energy and Environmental Impacts: Advancing California's Goals, which summarizes the types of marine renewable energy and their expected environmental impacts.

  • Geothermal Energy

    Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source that has been providing California with clean, reliable, and affordable electricity for over 50 years. California contains the largest amount of geothermal generating capacity in the nation, with 25 known geothermal resource areas in the state. The major geothermal production areas in the state are in the Counties of Sonoma, Lake, Imperial, Inyo, and Mono.

    The Commission's Geothermal Program began over 50 years ago with the issuance of the state's first geothermal prospecting permit near the Salton Sea in Imperial County. Actual production and use of geothermal resources from state owned lands managed by the Commission has been occurring for nearly four decades at the Geysers Field, which is the world's most developed geothermal resource area.

    The Commission's Geothermal Program seeks to develop geothermal resources on state owned lands in an innovative, safe, and environmentally protective manner. To advance this goal, the Commission maximizes royalty revenue to the state and assures environmental protection and public safety. The Commission also endeavors to harness the geothermal potential on state owned lands to facilitate the state’s ambitious renewable energy goals, which require 50 percent of our energy to come from renewable sources by 2030.

    Commission staff employs skill and expertise in several specialized areas to manage geothermal development on state owned lands. Drilling proposals require a technical review by engineering personnel. Drilling and production operations are witnessed by field inspection staff for compliance with safety and pollution prevention regulations. Production reports, royalty calculations, and payments are verified by staff with expertise in geothermal operations and lease terms.

    Geothermal leases involving state owned lands are issued to companies that drill wells to extract geothermal fluids - either dry steam or hypersaline brine that flashes to steam. The companies use the steam, together with steam from adjacent federal and private leaseholds, to generate electrical power. At present, there are active geothermal operations on 7,247 acres of state school lands at the Geysers, and on 615 acres owned by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at the Salton Sea geothermal field in Imperial County. The Commission has authority to issue geothermal leases on lands owned by another state agency subject to that agency's consent. The electricity generated from geothermal resources on state-owned lands currently powers approximately 240,000 average homes.