Los Angeles could be the next California city to set a plan for switching to 100 percent renewable power.
The City Council will vote today on a measure that would have the city’s utility — the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) — study how to get to 100 percent clean energy.
LADWP is the biggest municipal utility in the country. It delivers electricity and water to 4 million customers. If the measure is approved, the utility will work with local universities, the U.S. Department of Energy, environmental groups, consumer advocates and others to look at how the utility could switch entirely to clean power.
David Graham-Caso, environmental policy adviser for Councilman Mike Bonin, co-sponsor of the motion, said he would be “very surprised” if the measure doesn’t pass with a unanimous vote.
Bonin, who represents the area west of Interstate 405, or the “San Diego Freeway,” said that “much of the gorgeous coastline of the district I represent will literally be underwater within decades if we do not take dramatic action to stop using harmful and climate-polluting fossil fuels.”
“Los Angeles can lead the way and show cities around the country — and around the world — that clean energy is here and ready to power thriving economies,” he added.
The goal is getting off fossil fuels, but the city wants to do it effectively, looking at where Los Angeles could place renewable projects, how much DWP would have to count on contracting for green energy generated outside the city, how much it will cost and how long it will take, said Ian Thompson, spokesman for Krekorian.
It comes as other California cities are making similar moves. San Diego earlier this year approved a plan to move to 100 percent renewable power. It has approved multiple steps that still need to be enacted as ordinances (ClimateWire, April 7). Del Mar, in north San Diego County, also pledged to go all-green, though its plan is more aspirational, with no approved actions to achieve it (ClimateWire, Aug. 8).
Lancaster, in north Los Angeles County, and San Francisco also both aim for full green power.
“It’s a huge trend,” said Evan Gillespie, the Sierra Club’s My Generation campaign director. “It will be interesting to see how the municipal-level trend percolates up to the state level.”
California’s renewable power goal right now is 50 percent by 2030.
What makes Los Angeles different is that it has its own utility. The other cities aiming for 100 percent green power are using or looking at a mechanism known as community choice aggregation, or CCA. They form a collective to buy power on behalf of residents and businesses and in that way can acquire more clean energy. The power is still delivered by the large utility in each place. Under state law, residents are automatic members of the CCA but can later opt out and go back to the incumbent utility.
When you are a municipal utility, you “have a whole range of infrastructure at your disposal,” Elkind said, noting that LADWP can build any needed transmission and distribution lines to make more green energy happen.
“They’d have a little bit more control over that,” Elkind said. “That means they also have to deal with the costs. They have to think about things like reliability. They’re going to have to think about how handle intermittent renewable energy.”
But a municipal utility also has control over where to plan energy storage and energy efficiency, he said.
“It’s technologically feasible,” Elkind said. “The question is, how much is it going to cost and what are the cheapest ways to get it done, and does it hurt any of the other values we have,” such as power reliability.
The LA City Council’s motion does not include any time frame for when the city would switch to 100 percent green energy.
“We will certainly push the utility and the city to move urgently,” Gillespie said. “There’s some unknowns about how quickly we can do this and what the trade-offs are” in terms of costs to ratepayers and other issues.
“The technology exists today,” Gillespie added. “It’s a question of the time frame by which the city wants to do it.”
LADWP already has been moving away from fossil fuels. It has contracts with coal-fired plants located out of state that end in 2025. However, even after those contracts finish, the utility will still produce more than 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of nearly 1.5 million cars on the road each year, the motion said.
“The remaining energy portfolio of the LADWP will be extremely reliant on natural gas, another source of greenhouse gases, and that portfolio will be susceptible to price and supply constraints of the gas market,” it said.
In fact, the disaster at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Los Angeles County is expected to be another motivator in passing the motion, Thompson said.
A four-month leak at that facility forced the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents. The Aliso Canyon facility emitted almost 100,000 tons of methane from October through February. The state’s Air Resources Board estimated that the leak added approximately 20 percent to statewide methane emissions during that period (ClimateWire, March 21).
LADWP also has contracts for nuclear power in Arizona that last through 2045, Gillespie said.
Reprinted with permission from E&E Publishing
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