In as few as three months, all power decisions in California may be made by a new energy secretary who will consolidate siting authority and market oversight with the work of the Energy Commission and the old California Power Authority.

Speedier site approval would be the most important outcome, says Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Sacramento-Based Independent Energy Producers Association. “Today, the process can be time-consuming and costly, but a license has never been overturned so once a producer is through the process, he can bank on it and not be open to litigation.”

If the integrity of that process can be protected when one person is responsible for deciding where plants can be located, then Smutny-Jones is in favor of the accountability it would bring. “Because of current market forces there are going to be a lot more facilities being built in the next ten years so that clarity could be important,” says Smutny-Jones.

On May 25, industry players, public officials and Californians will voice their opinions on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) proposal to create the cabinet-level Energy Dept. and reorganize the oversight process. The governor had sent his proposal to the Little Hoover Commission, a bipartisan, independent body created 43 years ago to promote efficiency in California programs. Next month the idea will go before state lawmakers. By summer's end the plan could be implemented.

According to the governor’s press release, the proposal, “improves the continuity and accountability of state energy organizations by creating a single department with a Secretary of Energy.”

The Energy Commission, composed of four commissioners and chaired by the new Energy Secretary, will continue to license power plants that are 50 mW or larger and develop and approve building and appliance energy efficiency standards. Additionally, the Energy Commission will be given expanded licensing authority over new natural gas pipeline proposals, natural gas storage facilities and 200-kV transmission lines operated by the Independent System Operator. Smaller projects between 50-kV and 200-kV will be processed through an expedited Energy Commission process modeled after the current process used by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).