How California is bringing solar energy to low-income renters

California is often the first state in the West to test new solutions to social and environmental problems. These days, the state is at the fore of a much more ambitious challenge, as it finds its progressive ideals — and its increasingly diverse citizenry — in frequent opposition to the policies of President Donald Trump. Every month, in the Letter from California, we chronicle efforts in the state to grapple with its role in the changing, modern West. 

In central Los Angeles, just a couple of blocks from the intersection of two major freeways, an almost century-old, three-story brick apartment building stands. Known as the Alegria — Spanish for “joy” — it is one of the few affordable residential buildings in this industrial but increasingly coveted neighborhood, due to its proximity to the University of Southern California campus and downtown LA. Rent is set at 30 percent of a minimum-wage worker’s salary (around $12 to $15 per hour), and Section 8 vouchers are still accepted.

Twenty years ago, the Alegria Apartments were so infested by mice and cockroaches that only five units were occupied. Across the street, less than 50 feet from the building’s entrance, an active oil-drilling operation exposed residents to health threats ranging from respiratory problems to cancer. According to a 2014 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, there are an estimated 5,000 active oil and gas wells in Los Angeles County. More than half a million people, a majority of them people of color, live within 1,320 feet of an oil or gas well.

In 2004, the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, a community development nonprofit, bought the building and began to restore it. Now, the Alegria has gone solar, thanks to a partnership with Grid Alternatives, whose mission is to increase access to renewable energy technology and job training. This is the first initiative of its kind to bring free solar energy to low-income renters directly impacted by fossil fuel extraction. The solar energy will by no means offset all the hardships involved in living next to an urban oil well. But it’s a hopeful sign of what’s possible in the future, with California leading the way to environmental justice by making cleaner energy accessible to all, regardless of class.

“Part of what made this the right choice was Alegria’s fight against the polluting AllenCo Energy oil well facility across the street,” Michael Kadish, executive director of Grid Alternatives in Greater Los Angeles, who envisioned the collaboration, told me. “It was evident that this project could draw a stark contrast between old dirty energy extraction that harms community members and the new clean energy future that we are working to make as inclusive as possible.”

The Alegria received a 34.5-kW DC solar photovoltaic system, a medium-sized system that will deliver an estimated $9,000 in savings annually to the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation. It’s an approach that seems ideal for the area: Southern California has sunshine, an endless sea of rooftops — and a clean energy policy that’s becoming a model for other states.

California recently passed a landmark rule that requires every new single-family home to have solar panels, starting in 2020. This will translate to an extra $10,000 fee for new homeowners, who, on average, pay $674,600 for a home in LA. There will be clear long-term benefits for them and for the state’s electric grid, and carbon emissions will be lowered overall. But what about the middle- and working-class people, who are barely able to afford living in a city like Los Angeles? How will they gain?

According to Grid Alternatives’ data, low-income households, or those earning annual incomes less than 80 percent of area median income, account for less than 1 percent of LA County’s residential solar capacity. Yet they typically spend a higher percentage of their income on energy costs, so they stand to benefit the most from utility bill savings.

Thanks to Obama-era executive actions and private-sector commitments, low-income multifamily buildings can now get fully subsidized arrays, like the one the Alegria has installed. But in order for those to translate to savings for tenants rather than landlords, Los Angeles County would need to adopt an existing state policy known as virtual net metering — a system that allows people to share solar energy among tenants and receive credits on their electric bills for any excess energy they produce.

“In the future, we hope that virtual net metering will mean that financial benefits can flow directly to affordable housing residents to provide greater equity in California,” said Kadish, who is part of a coalition of clean energy and housing advocates pushing for strategies and programs to assist low-income energy customers. Currently, renters make up about half of the LA Department of Water and Power’s customers. But without a utility policy like virtual net metering, they cannot share a single solar system or qualify for rebates.

This is where the Alegria comes in: Its new solar array is little more than a symbolic gesture, assisting a mere 15 families, but it demonstrates that sustainable energy can and should be accessible and affordable for all. Those 15 families represent a small fraction of the many low-income people who live in one of the most expensive and sprawling urban regions in the country. In full view of the kind of fossil fuel energy they hope to make obsolete, they are pioneering a future that includes virtual net metering and more equitable energy planning. In this way, they’re blazing a path for the years to come.

“We continue to fight, because until we can dismantle oil wells — like the one across the street from us — we won’t truly have a good quality of life,” said Victoria, an Alegria resident, at the “flip the switch” ceremony last month. “But solar panels are giving us a big help.”

Note: This article has been updated to clarify that it is low-income multifamily buildings, not tenants, that can receive subsidized arrays. In addition, it is Los Angeles County, not California, that would need to adopt virtual net metering, as it is already a state policy.

Contributing editor Ruxandra Guidi writes from Los Angeles, California. 

 

How California is bringing solar energy to low-income renters, by Ruxandra Guidi, High Country News, June 6, 2018. 

 

SCE lays out details of electric vehicle expansion in fleet, industrial areas

Fresh of reaching one milestone, Southern California Edison now plans to revolutionize electric vehicle use within its industrial customer case.

SCE’s Charge Ready Transport will spend $356 million toward installing charging stations for schools, commercial workplaces and industrial sites, including the area’s port operations. The California Public Utilities Commission approved the utiity’s plan last week.

Katie Sloan, SCE’s principal manager for innovation, development and controls, said the five-year plan has the potential to transform fleets for companies, school districts and public agencies. The utility will offer a rebate of up to 50 percent of charging station costs, depending on the size of the company and the industrial pollution rating of the location.

The utility hopes to put in about 830 charging sites and get 8,000 new zero-emission vehicles in operation.

“Forty percent of the goods coming into the country move through southern California’s ports,” Sloan said. Transforming electric vehicle impact within the region “means getting as much participation as we can.”

SCE recently celebrated installation of the 1,000th charging station in Charge Ready pilot program. The new program will use a formula that ensures smaller companies from areas where carbon pollution is higher will be most eligible for the rebates.

“If the company is not on the Fortune 1,000 they are eligible,” Michael Backstrom, SCE’s managing director of energy and environmental policy, said. “When a company might apply, we can identify whether it fits into one of the (polluted) regions and screen it against the Fortune 1,000.”

SCE will wait and see how the adoption patterns emerge before deciding what to do about other build-outs such as substations.

“In early days one of the things we’ll focus on is understanding customer use cases and what the load will be,” Sloan said. “This is really a customer-driven program.”

Overall, monthly bills for SCE customers will go up about 50 cents to pay for the costs of the new program. In addition, SCE already has the Charge Ready program for residential customers who want to install 24-volt electric chargers in their homes. The utility is offering up to $1,500 to defray the infrastructure cost when the customer buys the device.

The CPUC approved close to $768 million in planned spending by the state’s major utilities on expanding the network of charging stations. San Diego Gas & Electric will spend $136 million on rebates for as many as 60,000 customers to install home charging stations.

Pacific Gas & Electric will build 230 direct current, fast-charging stations at a cost of about $22.5 million.

 

SCE lays out details of electric vehicle expansion in fleet, industrial areas, by Rod Walton, Electric Light & Power, June 5, 2018.

State Approves Lancaster Choice Energy’s Energy Efficiency Program Plan; LCE the First CCA in Southern California to Be Approved

More Than $1 Million in Funding to be Provided for Local Programs to Help Customers Find New Ways to Reduce Energy Use

At the Lancaster City Council meeting on Tuesday night, the City Council accepted funding for Lancaster Choice Energy’s Energy Efficiency Program Plan. Approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on April 26, the three-year plan authorizes nearly 1.2 million in funds from SCE’s Energy Efficiency Portfolio budget to fund local programs to help both residential and small business customers find new ways to lower their energy use and bills. Lancaster Choice Energy (LCE) is the first Community Choice Aggregate (CCA) program in Southern California – and in Southern California Edison territory – to receive approval to offer these free energy efficiency programs to its customers.

“Lancaster is known for being a record-setting ‘City of firsts.’ We are pleased to announce that Lancaster Choice Energy is now the first CCA in Southern California to be approved by the CPUC for these innovative programs,” said Mayor R. Rex Parris. “These new energy efficiency programs will enhance our City’s sustainability efforts, while also helping LCE consumers save money.”

LCE allows customers to reduce their impact on the environment by offering most of its power from renewable resources. An even better way for customers to save the environment and their budgets is by simply using less energy in the first place. This is the goal of LCE’s new Energy Efficiency Plan.

One initiative of the two-pronged Energy Efficiency Plan is the Energy Advisor program, which will offer personalized energy advice for Lancaster homeowners. The Energy Advisor program will provide LCE’s residential customers with free energy surveys, which highlight ways to reduce their power usage. Advisors identify free and low-cost options available to residents, including weatherization, efficiency upgrades, and special financing programs for energy-efficient appliances and equipment.


The second component of the plan is the Small Commercial Direct Install program, which proposes energy efficiency solutions for small businesses in Lancaster. Small business customers will be offered free or low-cost energy efficiency retrofits designed to reduce their overall usage. By installing energy efficient lighting, refrigeration, and controls, a business can often lower the cost of running their business while reducing carbon emissions.

Marin Clean Energy, California’s first CCA, and the San Francisco Bay Regional Energy Network also showed support for LCE’s plan, filing a formal letter with the CPUC calling LCE’s plan “a good model for the rest of the state,” noting that it will add value for local ratepayers.

The new Energy Advisor and Small Commercial Direct Install programs are expected to launch in autumn 2018. For more details on the program, visit www.LancasterChoiceEnergy.com or call (661) 723-6084.

 

State Approves Lancaster Choice Energy’s Energy Efficiency Program Plan; LCE the First CCA in Southern California to Be Approved, by Lancaster Choice Energy, Lancasterchoiceenergy.com, May 22,2018. 

CCAs Fight to Thrive in a Landscape They are Changing

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — The rapid growth of community choice aggregators in California has sparked criticism that they are “boutique” green energy options catering to wealthier communities such as the San Francisco Bay Area.

But Jessica Tovar, organizer of the Local Clean Energy Alliance of the Bay Area, told Infocast’s California Energy Summit last week she was inspired to pursue a CCA because she grew up in an East Los Angeles neighborhood with fossil fuel generating plants and other industrial facilities that affected the health of herself and family members. Her group sees its role as “addressing climate change, advancing social and racial justice, and building sustainable and resilient communities.”

“Our current energy structure is problematic,” Tovar said. “We affect the entire world based on our energy choices.” Tovar said CCAs allow communities to make the best choices regarding their energy, which she referred to as “energy democracy.” Her CCA’s goal is to reduce consumption, and integrate local generation and new, cleaner technology.

Through CCAs, “we can win economic and environmental justice in our communities,” she said.

Redondo Beach Council Member Christian Horvath said he was seeking lower rates and green power when he ran for office, a campaign based partially on the intent to join or create a CCA. A lot of people aren’t familiar with how CCAs work, but “to me it was a path forward for moving into renewables” and local distributed energy, he said.

The council eventually joined Los Angeles Community Choice Energy (now merged into Clean Power Alliance of Southern California), founded in spring of 2017 by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The initiative required educating the community about the increased choice a CCA offers and overriding a mayoral veto, he said.

“A lot of people down here just aren’t familiar with what a CCA is or what that means,” Horvath said. “The concerns on the other side didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. To me, it was the responsible thing to do.”

The CCA concept largely sat dormant after the legislature approved their creation in 2002, but their growth has spiked dramatically in the last five years. Investor-owned utilities say they could lose up to 85% of their loads to CCAs within a decade. But that expansion doesn’t come without growing pains.

“It’s a challenge every day,” said Ted Bardacke, executive director of the Clean Power Alliance. He said the growing number of CCAs is a comfort, adding that creating a CCA requires building a brand, allowing customers to take a larger role in their consumption and gaining consumers’ trust to co-manage their energy usage. It is also vital to build strong management teams with experience in the energy sector, he said.

“One of the things that keeps us going is the business model seems to work,” Bardacke said.

CCAs were bolstered by news earlier this month that Moody’s assigned a first-time Baa2 issuer rating to Marin Clean Energy, reflecting the strength of the CCA’s business model.

“That’s a big step, to actually have a CCA in California with a credit rating,” which shows the market is maturing, Bardacke said. He noted that some in the industry doubt whether local officials have the expertise needed handle electricity procurement (“We hear that a lot down at the [California Public Utilities Commission].”), but community-owned electricity organizations are nothing new. About 25% of California’s load is served by municipal or publicly owned utilities run by elected officials.

“They tend to have very good reliability and pretty darn low rates,” Bardacke said. “There is a model out there in California that has worked for over 100 years of municipal utilities and public power.”

One issue that could impede CCA growth: Beginning in 2021, state law will mandate that CCAs meet 65% of their renewable requirements through long-term contracts of at least 10 years. The longer terms will require more scrutiny of CCA credit ratings and the transition to a direct customer relationship with power suppliers is a major shift compared with how procurement has been done by traditional utilities.

“I think it’s still an ongoing discussion” around CCA credit ratings and finances, said Cathy DeFalco, executive director of Lancaster Choice Energy. “I think both parties have to have a little bit of flexibility” regarding contracts with suppliers, she said, adding that “as CCAs mature … we get more history and people become more comfortable.”

The discussion got testy when it turned to the IOUs’ request last month that the CPUC restructure the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA) for customers departing for CCAs, a mechanism designed to prevent utilities from shouldering all the costs for legacy procurements. The IOUs noted that areas served by CCAs are wealthier than average. (See California Utilities Propose New CCA Rules.)

When Marin Clean Energy Director of Power Resources Greg Brehm said “there is cooperation in the works” on the indifference adjustment, Independent Energy Producers Association CEO Jan Smutny-Jones repeated a refrain that utilities are holding hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy contracts signed years ago when renewables were much more expensive, and that the departure of customers to CCAs have left remaining utility customers with the stranded costs. Smutny-Jones and a representative from Pacific Gas and Electric last summer raised the alarm with the State Legislature over the legacy contracts. (See California CCAs Spur Worry of Regulatory Crisis.)

“We expect to receive full payment for those contracts,” Smutny-Jones said.

Brehm replied that “there is no expectation that those contracts will be discounted in any way.”

“I’ll take that to the bank,” Smutny-Jones said with a skeptical tone, drawing laughter from attendees.

 

CCAs Fight to Thrive in a Landscape They are Changing, by Jason Fordney, RTO Insider, May 21, 2018.

City of Santa Monica Prepares for the Next Decade of Environmental Leadership at ClimateFest

As one of the most progressive cities in the world, the City of Santa Monica, along with Climate Action Santa Monica and Beautify Earth, will host ClimateFest on Saturday, May 19 to celebrate and inspire local climate action, through activities and workshops, to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for climate change.

The day-long event will blend family-friendly activities with notable speakers and workshops addressing vital topics, starting with a morning keynote by Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Board. The event takes place at St. Monica’s Catholic Community beginning at 9 a.m. and is for the Santa Monica community, and anyone in the region eager to get involved.

This is the second such community gathering, following the Community Climate Action Summit (October 2016). The ClimateFest partners hope to share progress and gain community insight and ideas as the City progresses its Climate Action & Adaptation Plan. The City is seeking to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner, as well as adapt to climate change impacts.

“Santa Monica has been at the forefront of the sustainability movement for over two decades and we have more aggressive goals than ever to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Mayor Ted Winterer. “The Santa Monica community has been on the front lines of this movement and we want everyone to come out as we create the next blueprint for success.”

The event, co-produced with community partners Climate Action Santa Monica and SustainableWorks, will feature expert speakers, group workshops, a family bike hub, clean vehicle ride-and-drive, a green living expo, photobooth, live music and a social hour. The event will also include a Pecha Kucha slam, which offers attendees the opportunity to share their ideas and actions through a presentation format limited to 20 slides or images at 20 seconds each.

“Climate action is about people and it is a crowd-sourced movement,” says Dean Kubani, Chief Sustainability Officer and Assistant Director of Public Works, “We really want the community to see that carbon neutrality is possible and getting there will can be fun and exciting.”

A bike ride with the Mayor at 9 a.m. will start the day, with the opening ceremony beginning at 10:30 a.m. Throughout the day, attendees will learn about the future of energy, water and mobility, and practical resources to go solar, compost and explore plant-based diets. Attendees must register to receive free lunch and participate in the social hour, hosted by Climate Action Santa Monica.

Speaker sessions include:

Save Food & Money. Shop Your Fridge: A 4-person family loses $1,500 a year on wasted food. Learn how to save money by shopping your fridge.

Future of Energy: Local experts discuss the changing landscape and technologies associated with local community choice energy, electrification, energy storage and microgrids.

Future of Water: Managing water sustainably is more important than ever as California is expected to see more wide swings between drought and downpour. State and local water officials will discuss projects and programs to increase local water self-sufficiency.

Water Efficiency: Drip Irrigation 101: Introduction to drip irrigation to learn how to make your landscape irrigation system more efficient.

Solar for Apartments and Condos: This workshop will provide you with the need-to-know information to engage your residents & neighbors and launch your solar project.

California Climate Policy Update from Sacramento: California is burnishing its role as the global leader in the fight against climate change. Hear from your local representatives – Sen. Ben Allen (invited); Assemblymember Richard Bloom – on the State’s successes and path to a low-carbon future.

For more information and to register, visit climatefestsm.eventbrite.com.

Submitted by Julie Du Brow

 

City of Santa Monica Prepares for the Next Decade of Environmental Leadership at ClimateFest, by Julie Du Brow, Santa Monica Daily Press, May 10, 2018.

4 Southern California cities gain national ‘gold medal’ awards for clearing the way for rooftop solar

Four Southern California cities were given national awards for breaking down barriers to residential and commercial rooftop solar installations by a nonprofit organization affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Of the communities recognized in 35 states on Tuesday, 17 cities in California received honors, including four local ones designated as SolSmart Gold Communiities: Huntington Beach, Claremont, West Hollywood and Santa Monica.

Rounding out the Southern California winners was Redondo Beach, which received a bronze medal award.

Streamlining permits, opening markets

Cities and counties receiving the top prize are doing the most to bring down permit fees, cut red tape, increase transparency, remove local codes that block solar development, cross-train staff and allow solar in all zones without special hearings.

The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association sought out the awardees that met varying levels of red-tape cutting criteria, from bronze to silver and gold, the highest. The program also provides technical assistance to awarded cities at no cost.

In the last two years, the SolSmart designation has been awarded to 200 cities spanning 35 states.

“Local governments are on the front lines of our national clean energy transformation, taking bold action to cut costs and expand solar energy use,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation in a written statement. She said the award winners, “open for solar business,” attract more solar installers, drum up business and make solar power more competitive while creating new jobs.

The solar energy business employs more than 250,000 Americans, while the number of jobs has nearly tripled since 2010, according to the foundation.

Solar on buildings, carports

In Claremont, the city was recognized for the second year in a row.

Some of the policies include: an online checklist that homeowners can bring to city hall and often get an answer within 10 minutes, said City Councilman Sam Pedroza.

The city has instituted a low residential permit fee of $283.94, according to city records. SolSmart credited the city with cross-training planners in both zoning requirements and solar installations.

“It is nice to get recognized from the outside,” Pedroza said.

In 2017, 137 new solar systems were installed for a capacity of 2.7 million kilowatt hours — the biggest year in terms of solar power added, said Chris Veirs, principal planner in charge of implementing the city’s sustainability plan.

The small, foothill city now produces 5.1 percent of all the energy used in the city from local solar, he said.

Most of the increase came from home owners adding photovoltaic panels to rooftops, he said. But the overall solar quotient includes installation on carports, on the U.S. Bank building roof and on rooftops of buildings at the Claremont Colleges.

Veirs expects more Claremont residents and businesses to go solar, as prices of PV panels drop. “Plus there’s just more awareness. People in Claremont are trying to live more sustainably. And a lot are buying PV solar systems to save money (on electricity bills),” he said.

Joining new power conglomerates

In addition to streamlining methods to install solar, the city of Santa Monica was recognized for joining the Clean Power Alliance, a community choice aggregation program started by Los Angeles County that has grown to 27 member cities. The new alliance will be able to buy more green energy than investor-owned utilities such as Southern California Edison, the city says.

“Our most recent action was to join a public power agency to procure electricity for our residents and businesses with a much greater proportion of renewables than provided by our local utility,” Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer told the foundation.

Huntington Beach provided an easier way for residents to get permits for smaller, photovoltaic systems. The city also completed other “gold level” improvements, including the elimination of restrictions that might prohibit solar installations, according to the foundation.

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Redondo Beach provides residents with financing through a third party known as the PACE Program, which stands for Property Assessed Clean Energy. Loans are repaid over many years through an assessment on the homeowner’s property tax bill, according to the foundation.

 

4 Southern California cities gain national ‘gold medal’ awards for clearing the way for rooftop solar, by Steve Scauzillo, The Whittier Daily News, May 3, 2018.

Santa Monica City Council Gives Nod to Pilot Project for Sub-Fleet of Electric City Buses

April 24, 2018 — Amid sinking ridership and rising red ink, Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus system was given to go-ahead Tuesday for a pilot project to start a sub-fleet of electric City buses.

The City Council voted to allow the troubled municipal bus system to begin purchasing battery electric buses — most likely, about 10 of them —

The pilot project would “lay the groundwork for a transition to a 100 percent zero-emissions fleet,” said Transit Director Edward King in a council report on the evolution of the BBB’s buses.

The City, which is known for its extensive “green” policies and practices, pledged in 2016 to transform the BBB’s fleet (already powered by renewable natural gas) to zero carbon emissions by 2030 (“Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus Could Go all Electric by 2030,” July 7, 2016).

Since then, the 90-year-old system’s woes have forced the City to begin re-examining the BBB’s mission, as well as its routes and way of doing business (“Santa Monica’s Embattled Bus System Coming Under New Scrutiny,” February 9, 2018).

It has also prompted skittishness about the system’s future.

The BBB is in “such flux,” said Council Member Kevin McKeown, that making “commitments is hard right now. It’s hard for me to say that.”

BBB operates a fleet of 200 buses, which includes nineteen 30-to-35-foot buses, 153 40-foot buses, and 28 60-foot buses. All are powered by natural gas engines fueled with renewable natural gas. More than 60 percent operate on compressed natural gas.

About 38 percent of BBB’s buses operate on liquefied natural gas, all of which are to be removed from the fleet by 2019.

On Tuesday, the council decided to try converting to electric buses in smaller steps by initiating it with a pilot project.

King said BBB would immediately begin to seek grant funding to help cover the costs associated with transitioning to an all-electric system.

Total per-mile operational cost for BBB’s existing transit buses is estimated to be $2.789/mi (compared to $2.829/mi for near-zero NOx emission natural gas transit buses) and $4.054/mi for battery electric transit buses if purchased in 2017, according to a recent analysis conducted for BBB by the consulting firm of Gladstein, Neandross & /Ramboll.

“While significant operating cost reductions are not expected for BBB’s existing buses or for NZE natural gas buses over the next 20 years, it is widely projected that operating costs for battery electric buses will fall over time,” the analysis said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Council Member Terry O’Day said the City should be moving more urgently toward an electric fleet.

“You can’t put a price on doing the right thing here,” he said. “Our role is to lead. It may be a little painful to buy some buses, but we need to do it, folks.”

City staff is analyzing the “economic and environmental benefits” for BBB’s fleet of transitioning the existing fleet it near-zero NOx emission natural gas engines fueled by renewable natural gas, and using battery electric buses — a newer technology which other transit agencies are beginning to try out.

 

Santa Monica City Council Gives Nod to Pilot Project for Sub-Fleet of Electric City Buses, by Niki Cervantes, Santa Monica Lookout, April 24, 2018.

Crunch Time For Renewable Energy In SoCal

In 1939, the city of Glendale, California, located north of Los Angeles between Burbank and Pasadena, built a municipal generating plant in order to assure the residents of the city that they would always have a access to reliable electrical power produced locally. The Hoover Dam had recently been completed, bringing cheap hydroelectric power to the burgeoning American west, but Glendale felt having a source of electricity directly under its control would be best in the long run.

And what a long run it has been. After almost 80 years of burning coal to make steam to turn generators, the Grayson power plant is nearing the end of its useful life despite many extensive repairs and upgrades over the years. In 2014, the Glendale Water and Power authority started making plans to repower Grayson and switch from coal to natural gas. Those plans have been moving forward ever since, and in fact GWP has spent $12 million so far on the repowering plan.

So it was a surprise last week when the Glendale city council voted not to approve the repower proposal just yet, despite the fact that so much money has been spent on planning already and warnings that delaying the project by 6 months could add another $2 million to the total cost, projected to be $500 million.

Instead, the council voted to issue a request for proposals to renewable energy companies. They will have 90 days to come up with plans for how renewables could replace the output of the Grayson plant in a manner that is both reliable and cost effective. In other words, it is put up or shut up time for renewable energy advocates. What happens in Glendale could have far reaching consequences throughout the utility industry.

“Why build an oversized, fossil fuel power plant while the state is moving to 100% clean energy? The world is transitioning away from burning natural gas for energy,” Angela Johnson Meszaros, a staff attorney with EarthJustice, tells the Los Angeles Daily News.“This is a place for the clean energy sector to step up and show that they can do this. If they don’t, the city will approve this power plant and the takeaway will be that the clean energy solutions aren’t there.”

A reliable energy supply is a principal factor in the decision how to proceed, says Steve Zurn, GWP general manager, in a carefully worded staff report. The Grayson plant is not part of the California Independent System Operator system, which makes Glendale less able to rely on other power sources to keep the lights on, Zurn argues. Even though there is a glut of renewable energy available in some parts of California — excess electricity that has to be sold to system operators in other states — Glendale does not have access to that power. “Failure to take action to modernize the aging Grayson Power Plant creates risk for the City,” the GWP report to the city council says.

One of the issues local residents have on their minds is air pollution from the Grayson plant. Even though natural gas burns cleaner than coal, a repowered generating station would produce more electricity, so the total amount of local greenhouse gas emissions would rise rather than fall.

One of the alternatives under consideration is a solar power plant coupled to grid-scale battery storage. That was the recommendation made by the CAISO as an alternative to building the Puente natural gas facility in Oxnard, which is located west of Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast. GWP says that project and the situation in Glendale are substantially different because Oxnard has access to the larger grid whereas Glendale does not, according to GreenTech Media.

“The storage industry is ready to compete to serve the electric needs of Glendale,” says Alex Morris, director of policy and regulatory affairs at the California Energy Storage Alliance. “This competition is a good thing for Glendale residents and businesses since it can only help determine the least-cost, best-fit grid resources.”

In 90 days, the Glendale city council will meet again to consider its options. The decision it makes then could reverberate far beyond the Glendale city limits.

 

Crunch Time For Renewable Energy In SoCal, by Steve Hanley, Clean Technica, April 19, 2018.

The two key questions about going to 100% renewables in Los Angeles

In Hollywood, the big stars can sell a movie by themselves and Hollywood’s utility wants to know if renewables are ready for stardom.

In 2016, the Los Angeles City Council asked the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to study the possibility of moving to a 100% renewables resource mix. For renewables, this could be what Hollywood calls a “marquee moment.” Many see in renewables the ‘star’ quality to run the ‘show’ on their own.

Others worry that co-stars, in the form of backup fossil generation, will be needed into the 2040s if LADWP is to guarantee reliable electricity for its 1.5 million-plus customers. That’s because if renewables get casted, LADWP faces a big challenge: Limits on regional transmission constrain LA’s renewables choices largely to solar and more solar.

Click here for full article.

The two key questions about going 100% renewables in Los Angeles, by Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive, April 5, 2018.

Los Angeles ranked No. 1 in US for solar energy use

Dive Brief:

  • Los Angeles ranks No. 1 in the nation for its use of solar energy, according to a new report by the Environment America Research & Policy Center and its state affiliates. The city moved up from last year’s No. 2 spot, overtaking San Diego.
  • The cities of Honolulu, Phoenix and San Jose, CA, made up the rest of the top five in the report, entitled, “Shining Cities 2018: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America.”
  • Honolulu stayed in the top spot for solar energy use per capita. In a statement, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said it will play a “huge role” in helping the city’s public and private transportation use only renewable energy by 2045. “This technology is rapidly improving and becoming even more widespread,” he said.

Dive Insight:
In the announcement of Los Angeles’ top spot, officials note cities such as Indianapolis, Newark, NJ, and Boston ranked highly for adopting and using solar energy, even though they are “not known for sunshine.” That follows a letter signed by a bipartisan group of 180 mayors from across the country calling for increased solar energy usage, a call that appears to be sinking in outside of traditional solar energy powerhouses like California and Hawaii.

Environment America noted the top 20 cities for solar energy, which comprise just 0.1% of total land mass in the United States, account for 4% of the country’s solar usage. That is in line with wider trends in research around lowering carbon emissions, which indicates that cities have led the way as they increase staffing and add new programs. “We are in a moment when progress on renewable energy will come from cities across the country,” Bret Fanshaw, Solar Program Director with Environment America and the report’s co-author, said in a statement.

For cities that wish to take advantage of solar energy, researchers urged them to use what Abigail Bradford, a Frontier Group policy associate and report co-author, described as “effective public policies.” And that is already underway even in smaller cities like Spokane, WA, which has waived the building and construction permit fees for solar panels to try and encourage more residents to add them. “More local leaders should step up and start plugging their communities into the clean and virtually limitless power of the sun,” Fanshaw said.

Cities such as Philadelphia and San Diego have set ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions — in fact, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement accompanying the report the city is working toward a “100% clean energy future.” Research by utility company NRG Energy found that cities can achieve sustainable energy solutions regardless of size, while the benefits include creating more jobs and keeping utility costs down for residents.

 

Report: Los Angeles ranked No. 1 in US for solar energy use, by Chris Teale, Utility Dive, April 4, 2018