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Renewable energy transmission development in California will be expedited, thanks to a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the state and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

The MOU, signed by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Gov. Edmund G. Brown, D-Calif., expands a state and federal partnership that has laid the groundwork for hundreds of renewable energy projects in the state over the past two years.

The expansion of the state and federal partnership results in the formal inclusion of transmission projects. MOU participants include the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the California Energy Commission (CEC), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and the California State Lands Commission (CSLC).

"Now that our successful partnership has demonstrated that advancing renewable energy projects in California can be done - and can done in the right way - it is essential to ensure that transmission facilities to get this power to market are also part of the equation," said Salazar in a press release.

The partnership was launched in 2009 and works through a renewable energy policy group (REPG) to expedite the review and processing of proposed projects. The REPG has guided renewable energy projects in California through a set of environmental reviews completed in time for qualifying proposals to take advantage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants, federal loan guarantees and production and investment tax credits, according to the DOI.

This year, REGP plans to focus on seven renewable energy and transmission projects in California on lands administered by the BLM, which will also focus on solar, wind and geothermal projects located on private lands.

One of the objectives of the partnership includes maintaining the REPG, which consists of senior policy representatives from the DOI, the governor's office and other state departments and programs. A high-level designee from the DOI and one from the governor's office will jointly lead the group. The REPG will meet monthly to oversee the implementation of the MOU and monitor progress toward achieving objectives.

The MOU also includes permitting-milestone guidance that provides applicants with deadline schedules or other financing goals, including state and federal tax or investment programs.

The REPG will work with a renewable energy action team (REAT) - made up of FWS, BLM, CEC, DFG, CAISO, CPUC, CSLC and the California Natural Resources Agency - to develop methods to prioritize available agency permitting resources on near-term projects.

Through the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), the FWS and DFG will determine appropriate permitting mechanisms under the authorities of the Federal Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the California Natural Community Conservation Planning Act. REAT will identify renewable energy zones (REZ) based on renewable energy development potential, as well as environmental, wildlife and conservation criteria.

Applications for solar development will be prioritized, especially for projects located in areas that do not require new transmission. In addition, a high priority will also be placed on processing applications for solar development in areas identified as solar energy zones through the solar energy programmatic environmental impact statement (solar PEIS) and REZ identified in the DRECP.

"California has made tremendous progress in permitting renewable projects, and now we need to make sure the transmission lines that deliver this clean energy are built as quickly as possible," said Brown in a press release. "Putting these construction projects on a fast track will put people back to work and keep California a leader in renewable energy."

The MOU also requires that the environmental review process begin - and a draft DRECP be completed - by the third quarter of this year. A final DRECP is due in the first quarter of 2013, with a record of decision scheduled for the second quarter of 2013.

Planning, siting and permitting efforts for renewable energy transmission projects must be coordinated with development and conservation goals identified in the solar PEIS and the DRECP. In addition, transmission corridors and projects that facilitate renewable energy development will be identified.

Partners are also required to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Forest Service to identify energy and transmission needs and opportunities on agency lands.

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