Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed a state law that he and federal officials say will speed approvals for large-scale solar and wind projects, improving chances that they will meet a deadline to qualify for federal stimulus dollars. The law allows energy developers to pay fees to compensate for wildlife habitat destroyed during construction, rather than having to acquire replacement land. State and federal agencies will use the fees to buy and protect land for wildlife or to restore or enhance habitat to bolster populations of plants and animals that are at risk of extinction.

"This really makes it much easier," says Schwarzenegger. "Rather than having to go and find replacement land, they write a check."

Energy companies have proposed more than 240 solar, wind, and geothermal projects in the state and are seeking approvals from the California Energy Commission and federal Bureau of Land Management. To win federal stimulus dollars that could cover as much as 30% of construction costs, the projects must be approved and "shovel ready" by the end of this year.