Clean Energy Coordinated Permit Process
In Washington state, there are three different pathways clean energy developers can choose when applying for permits for their proposed project. A project proponent will decide which pathway to use based on their needs and their project. The described pathways are for private projects proposed by a private developer for a specific site.
Ecology has established a new coordinated permit process for eligible clean energy projects as directed by the state Legislature. This includes assisting with pre-application discussions, environmental review, and permit processes with state and local agencies. Tribes and federal agencies may also be involved.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Wind energy
- Solar energy
- Renewable or green electrolytic hydrogen
- Geothermal energy
- Renewable natural gas
- Wave or tidal action
- Biomass energy (using solid organic fuels from wood, forest, or field residues or dedicated energy crops)
- Clean energy product manufacturing
- Battery storage or manufacturing
- Pumped storage
Additional projects eligible for Ecology’s coordinated clean energy permitting process include:
- Alternative jet fuel or sustainable aviation fuel
- Projects and facility upgrades by emissions-intensive trade-exposed facilities. These upgrades must:
- Reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions
- Align with the cap-and-invest program trajectory
- Not degrade local air quality
A clean energy project proponent can also choose to use a local government-led environmental review and permitting process, unless a city or county has placed restrictions on types of clean energy. Energy projects which must use the EFSEC process include:
- Power plants (350 megawatts or more)
- Nuclear power facilities which produce electricity
- Long-distance, high-voltage electrical transmission lines
An applicant decides the type of project and proposed site, based on their business needs. We strongly recommend applicants meet with agency staff before applying for permits or certification. There may be ways to avoid or minimize potential impacts through project design and site selection.
Yes, state and local agencies can provide initial feedback on project design and sites at pre-application meetings. Pre-application discussions with all parties are important and beneficial. Project proponents do not need to decide at the pre-application phase which path they will be using, they can reach out to Ecology, EFSEC, or local agencies to provide information and hear feedback.
A complete application contains sufficient information about a project site, construction, operation, and decommissioning to determine potential impacts and the type of environmental review and permits needed. Needed information will vary from project to project, so pre-application discussions are critical. They can help proponents know if they have the needed data and analysis for an application.
Typically, a complete application includes data and analysis about the site to identify natural resources that could be impacted, such as water, air, land, and species and habitat. It would also include information about potential impacts to Tribal and cultural resources and overburdened communities as well as impacts to the built environment like transportation. Agencies may request additional information to understand potential impacts and evaluate the project. A complete application would also identify any engagement an applicant had with potentially affected Tribes and overburdened communities and identify any concerns raised.
Every clean energy project is subject to SEPA, no matter which pathway is chosen. The type of SEPA action depends on the project and potential for environmental impacts.
A project requires an environmental impact statement (EIS) if impacts are likely to be significant. If an EIS is required for a clean energy project, it must be completed within two years of a threshold determination.
If the applicant provides information showing all significant impacts can be mitigated, a lead agency can issue a mitigated determination of non-significance (MDNS). If impacts are not likely to be significant, a determination of non-significance (DNS) is issued.
The types of permits needed will depend on the project as well as location, construction, operation, and potential impacts. These would be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on project details. Typically, clean energy projects require multiple local and state permits. Projects may also require federal permits if federal lands are affected, federal funds are used, or federal agency decisions are needed.
State and federal agencies have formal government-to-government relationships with Tribes and can offer consultation. Tribes may also request consultation with agencies. Local governments, agencies, and project applicants can offer to engage with Tribes and provide information about the project.
For Ecology’s coordinated permit process, we will notify and offer early, meaningful, and individual consultation with affected federally recognized Tribes and provide informal engagement options. The consultation is designed to increase understanding of the potential impacts to Tribal rights, interests, and resources. This includes:
- Tribal cultural resources
- Archaeological and sacred sites
- Other rights and interests in Tribal lands
- Lands for which a Tribe possesses rights that are reserved or protected by federal treaty, statute, or executive order.
For the EFSEC process, the EFSEC Department Chair and designated staff must consult with affected Tribes. As required by law, the goal of the consultation process is to collaboratively identify Tribal resources or rights potentially affected by a proposed energy facility and seek ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any adverse effects.
For Ecology’s coordinated permit process, we will identify overburdened communities which may be affected by a project. Ecology will verify these communities have been meaningfully engaged in a timely manner and comments have been considered in determining potential impacts.
For the EFSEC process, engagement with overburdened communities will be addressed through communications specific to the unique needs of the affected community. This is to ensure interested parties within those communities are informed regarding their rights and options for public input.
Federal agencies make decisions based on their regulations and federal permits may be required for some clean energy projects. The responsible federal agency determines which permits are needed. Federal agencies are responsible for environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as well as for the permits they issue. As part of Ecology’s coordinated permit process and the EFSEC process, federal agencies will be invited to be a participating agency or receive information.
Applicants are required to pay Ecology or EFSEC for undertaking the work needed to complete the environmental review and permit process for their project. This includes work done by other state or local agencies involved in these processes. For the local government-led process, local agencies can require cost reimbursement according to their rules.
An applicant can withdraw their application at any time by notifying the lead agency (Ecology, EFSEC, or local government) in writing.
Unless a final decision has been made in the EFSEC process or for Ecology’s coordinated permit process, the applicant can choose to use a local government-led review instead. For the EFSEC and Ecology processes, there are some restrictions on changing pathways:
- If an applicant applies to use the EFSEC process, they are not eligible to use Ecology’s coordinated permit process.
- If an applicant uses Ecology’s coordinated permit process but then wants to use the EFSEC process, they can only do so if EFSEC determines there was a substantial change to the project.
For Ecology’s coordinated permit process and the local government-led process, each agency issuing a permit makes the decision for their permit. There is no single agency or person who decides to approve or deny a project. All permits needed for a project must be approved for a proposal to operate.
Under the EFSEC process, the EFSEC Council makes a recommendation to the governor and the governor approves or denies the recommendation. EFSEC then becomes the issuing authority for any appropriate permits or plans required of the facility.
For Ecology- and local government-led processes, the regulations for each of the required project permits determines the appeal process. Appeals may be heard by a local hearings officer, the Pollution Control Hearings Board, Shoreline Hearings Board, or by a court.
After the governor’s decision on a project using the EFSEC process, appeals would go to Thurston County Superior Court. In this process, all petitions for review are consolidated into a single proceeding and expedited upon review to the Washington Supreme Court.