Los Angeles solar programs fall short

The Los Angeles Business Council, USC and UCLA have recently completed an examination of the potential for residential and commercial solar within city limits.  The findings of the group indicate that Los Angeles could easily become the national leader for solar training, installation and operations.  A solar program could generate 16,000+ jobs and $2B in local investment.  But potential is only promise without execution – and that is where LA falls short.  The culprit is not lack of will, but lack of imagination – by the local utility.

While the city portrays itself as the greenest metropolis in the world, the local utility strangely lags every other state municipal power agency in solar capacity per capita.  And this despite significant initiatives and incentives at both the local and state level.  The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power has not shown much interest in stimulating local solar installations – especially given the favorable weather, geographic extent of the city and available commercial rooftops, ideal for solar.  Rather the utility is focused on large-scale solar facilities in the regional deserts to meet renewable mandates.  Despite a number of enabling legislative actions, LADWP seems set on a course to replicate the centralized facility approach to power generation and distribution.

In many ways the needs of the local community for cheap power, jobs and economic stimulation does not mesh with the utility’s plans for meeting renewable targets.  The local community and trade colleges have already ratched up their effort to train a workforce.  Our fantastic research Universities (Caltech, UCLA and USC) have been in the national forefront of applied research to develop alternative energy sources and specifically solar energy.  The mayor and city council have all aggressively supported and positioned Los Angeles as a clean technology leader.  All that is required is a market for local solar.  A market that could be fostered, promoted and facilitated by the area’s dominant energy provider.

It is not lack of will or capability that inhibits creative ways to provide power, rather a lack of vision by the key actor.  The LADWP is charged with meeting our energy demand and it is doing what it believes is the best means to meet their mandates for reliable power generation and distribution.  But it is a shame that there seems to be overt reluctance on the part of the utility to consider alternatives to the tried but tired means of creating electricity – large-scale centralized facilities.  Our natural advantages and interest in integrating renewable power portfolio with local economic development is being ignored. 

The report offers several ways that the city and California can maintain its leadership position in renewable energy development.  The state certainly does not lack for legislative intent to make renewables a significant source of energy.  And meeting those aggressive goals benefits us all.  With a little bit of extra effort, better planning, adoption of Feed in Tariffs (FiT) and a commitment by the utility to embrace a broader mandate, Los Angeles could easily maintain and extend its reputation as the greenest metropolis in the world.  

The complete report is available here:  Empowering LA’s Solar Workforce  

A move to local production and local consumption has many attendant benefits.  Local production means the size and scale of energy facilities can shrink significantly, reducing the attendant habitat destruction.  Making power on the roof reduces the amount of infrastructure the utility has to provide, making energy production even greener.  The widespread adoption of local generation would lead to new, improved methods of storing energy produced by renewable sources.  It isn’t too soon to begin and it would be an awesome opportunity for the LADWP to lead the way.