LA City Council Set to Place 400 MW Solar Measure before Voters

By Published On: November 7, 2008

The Los Angeles City Council expects to place a $1 billion-plus measure before voters to require the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power to install 400 MW of solar panels in the city by 2014. The program would be the largest municipal solar energy project in the nation, David Nahai, LADWP general manager told the council November 5. The city currently has 13 MW of installed solar energy capacity, the general manager said. If passed in the upcoming March 3 election, the measure estimated to cost up to $1.5 billion would raise the typical residential customer power bill between $1.88 and $2.78 a month. Nahai added the measure is likely to be rolled into a larger solar energy plan the department is preparing for release in the weeks ahead. Pending an in-depth analysis, the measure may necessitate LADWP to reprioritize wind, geothermal and hydro projects it’s negotiating with developers, he noted. Under the solar measure, LADWP employees would install panels on city-owned buildings and at city airports. However, to capture the tax savings available only to private entities that install solar systems, financial institutions would own the installations at least initially. Without being able to take advantage of the federal tax incentives, the project would cost $3 billion, according to the muni. Aside from reducing the city’s carbon foot print and increasing its use of renewable energy, the council sees the measure as a way to create green jobs installing and manufacturing systems. For instance, the measure would give a system purchase preference for companies that made solar technologies in Los Angeles. LADWP likely would have to hire new workers to install the systems. However, ratepayers represented by neighborhood councils and at least one local company complained about the measure. “The rush to place the initiative [on the ballot] would be a struggle for the middle class,” Soledad Garcia, a Los Angeles neighborhood council representative, told the elected city officials. Because LADWP would not “bid out” system installation under the measure, said another neighborhood council activist Bill Hays, “it’s going to be expensive.” The added cost of the solar measure would come on top of recent LADWP rate hikes the council approved earlier this year (Circuit, April 11, 2008). Known as “The Green Energy and Good Jobs for Los Angeles Program,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, city council members, and Working Californians, a labor group closely associated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, initiated the measure. The union represents many LADWP workers. Several representatives and employees of Homeboy Industries, however, were skeptical. They complained they would not be able to install solar systems under the measure. “Our Hispanic community needs these jobs,” said Jessica Espinoza, representing Homeboy Industries. “I ask you to consider that before taking it away from us.” Homeboy Industries, organized by the Catholic Father Greg Boyle, employs ex-gang members in several businesses with the aim of rehabilitating them. It has trained many to become solar installers and actively installs photovoltaic systems. Environmentalists voiced support for the measure as long as it is just a part of a larger LADWP solar and renewable energy program.

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