Never content with the status of pioneer in the nation’s quest for greater development of renewable power, California has taken steps again to raise the standards for other states to follow.

In November 2008, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order to streamline his state’s renewable energy project approval process and increase the state’s Renewable Energy Standard to 33 percent renewable power by 2020.

Calling it the “the most aggressive target in the nation for renewable energy,” Schwarzenegger said the order, “will clear the red tape for renewable projects and streamline the permitting and siting of new plants and transmission lines.”

The governor made the announcement at the site of OptiSolar’s new plant in Sacramento, which will begin manufacturing solar panels in early 2009. When fully built out, the one-million-square-foot plant will be the largest photovoltaic solar panel manufacturing plant in North America, providing 1,000 green jobs and producing approximately 2,000 solar panels per day.

Schwarzenegger said he also will propose legislative language to codify the new higher standards and require all utilities, public and private, to meet the 33 percent target and spread implementation costs across all ratepayers with safeguards for low-income customers.

The executive order directs state agencies to create comprehensive plans to prioritize regional renewable projects based on an area’s renewable resource potential and the level of protection for plant and animal habitat. Along those lines, the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) signed a Memorandum of Understanding formalizing a Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT). The CEC and DFG will create a “one-stop” permitting process with the goal of reducing the application time for specific projects in half. This will be achieved through the creation of a special joint streamlining unit that will concurrently review permit applications filed at the state level.

Also, the CEC, DFG, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a coordinated approach in the expedited permitting process, which will significantly reduce the time and expense for developing renewable energy on federally owned California land, including the priority Mojave and Colorado Desert regions.

The executive order is yet another in a long line of recent steps taken by lawmakers in California to facilitate more green power development. For example, in September, Schwarzenegger signed legislation to continue the property tax exclusion for projects that use solar panel energy and expand the exclusion to builder-installed solar energy systems in new homes.