Business, civic leaders urge LADWP to increase solar goals

A broad coalition of business, environmental and civic leaders today called on the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to increase and accelerate its goals for generating local renewable energy, urging the utility to immediately expand a successful pilot program allowing hundreds of building owners to install rooftop solar panels and then sell the electricity generated into the utility’s power grid.

Aside from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) solar program — the largest solar program of its kind in the nation — is credited with spurring major private investment in clean solar power in Los Angeles County and creating thousands of high-quality local jobs. The pilot program has reached capacity with all 150 MW originally authorized either installed or active, along with a waitlist of interested participants.

“Los Angeles has a unique opportunity to show the nation that we can harness technology, an entrepreneurial spirit and the sun’s energy to meet the demands of the climate crisis while producing the power needed to sustain our way of life,” wrote leaders organized by the Los Angeles Business Council in a letter sent today to LADWP Board President Mel Levine on behalf of the organization’s 500 members. “Expanding solar programs [will] benefit the entire LA community by creating a pipeline of good-paying local jobs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the quality of life for residents.”

This push to expand the FiT program follows a recent announcement by mayor Eric Garcetti that the LADWP will be closing three gas-fired power plants along the coast that generate nearly 40% of the city’s natural gas portfolio. The decision to phase out the power plants supports LA’s goal of transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2045.

City leaders have yet to announce how the LADWP plans to replace the nearly 1,700 MW of lost electricity without raising energy prices or increasing the risk of power outages.

“This is a moment that calls for big-picture thinking,” said Nury Martinez, Los Angeles city councilwoman. “We need to accelerate our transition to clean energy even faster by quickly scaling the FiT program to generate more renewable energy, and consistent with the call for a Green New Deal for Los Angeles, we must seize the opportunity to be first in the nation to commit to targeting the environmental and economic benefits of this groundbreaking approach to our hardest hit front-line and disadvantaged communities.”

Current participants in the FiT program include a variety of commercial, industrial and residential buildings in such neighborhoods as Boyle Heights, Sun Valley and Downtown LA Together, they are delivering affordable solar energy to the utility’s power grid while generating a steady stream of income for the buildings’ owners.

“The FiT pilot program generated $500 million in economic activity while displacing 2.7 million tons of greenhouse gases from the environment each year. That’s like taking away the emissions from about half a million cars annually while delivering clean power to tens of thousands of LADWP customers,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, which has conducted in-depth analysis on the program. “The FiT program delivered on its promise and is now ready for a significant expansion to bring it to scale. According to our UCLA atlas, there are an estimated 10,000 acres of underutilized rooftops of office buildings, warehouses and apartment buildings in Los Angeles that could be put to use generating zero-carbon solar energy.”

The program has drawn investment to underserved neighborhoods, with 40% of all projects in “solar equity hotspots,” low-income communities with abundant rooftops for solar installations.

“The success of the FiT program demonstrates that you can grow the economy while investing in clean energy,” said Luis Amezcua, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign. “We urge city officials to fast-track the expansion of the FiT to continue pumping clean energy into the grid while creating good job opportunities in communities where health and economic benefits are needed the most.”

The FiT program has also spurred local manufacturing and financing programs, such as the Solar Strap roof attachment system and the imminent introduction of an online permitting process, as well as the attention of real estate owners and developers.

The mayor’s sustainability plan sets a goal of 900 to 1,500 MW of local solar by 2025 — half of which will be accomplished through solar FiT. Business leaders and environmental advocates convened by the LABC believe that goal is insufficient.

“We are grateful for mayor Garcetti’s leadership in putting us on a path to 100% clean energy,” said Veronica Padilla, executive director of Pacoima Beautiful. “Now we must step up our solar goals and expand the FiT program to ensure our city’s green transformation is rooted in equity and benefits communities that need it most.”

News item from Los Angeles Business Council

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