LA County’s First Chief Sustainability Officer To Regionally Advance Sustainability

Los Angeles County has hired its first Chief Sustainability Officer, Gary Gero, to regionally advance sustainability. The Planning Report sat down with Mr. Gero to discuss sustainability issues in the nation’s largest county, and here is what he had to say about Community Choice Aggregation and programs to facilitate the growth of renewables across the county. 

Gary Gero

Gary Gero

Turning to distributed energy, the county has demonstrated an interest in integrating increasing amounts of renewable energy into the grid. Pease address the status of feasibility studies regarding a potential Community Choice Aggregation program for Los Angeles.

I would draw a parallel to the water world here: Just as we’re looking at increasingly local solutions to water supply and water quality, we’re also looking at increasingly local solutions to our energy issues. In general, local solutions help with climate resilience; in a climate change scenario, relying on far-off plants may not always be the ideal.

What we’re doing in the county, under the authority that we have under state law, is starting to collaborate with cities on creating a regional community choice energy program, in which the cities and the county are providing energy services to our residents. Preceding my arrival, the county has done a couple years of good work on this. We’ve developed a business plan as well as a feasibility study that shows that we can provide cleaner energy at lower cost than what we’re currently receiving from Southern California Edison, and that we can do it in a way that is financially sustainable over the long term.

The county’s initial approach was to go out and do this on its own—providing energy to our own facilities and the unincorporated areas only. We were prepared to move forward on that basis, but the board really took a fresh look in September and said, “No, we don’t want to be a monolith that does this by ourselves. We need to work with the cities within the county to create a truly regional approach to the question.”

I’m going to be talking with all 82 eligible cities—I’ve so far talked to about 25—to encourage and invite them into a discussion about creating a Joint Powers Authority to operate a community choice aggregation program. That process will ramp up in earnest in January. When we create our community choice aggregation program, the power to develop local energy resources will be in our hands. This is something that we’re very excited about. Providing jobs locally and energy infrastructure locally improves our communities and makes us more resilient.

With respect to financing, what programs do you believe have most facilitated the growth of renewables? PACE, for example, is much admired statewide, but not very strong in LA County. Why is that?

PACE is a key funding mechanism, and while the county does operate a PACE program, I think we can be more assertive on it. There are some internal institutional barriers that we’re going to have to address in order to make that program as effective as it can be.

There are ways to innovate and improve that program. For instance, we’re opening it up to EV infrastructure and seismic retrofits as well, so it goes beyond just solar and energy efficiency. Still, PACE is just one of a number of mechanisms. When it comes to the community choice aggregation program, we’ll be exploring the full range of financing opportunities for us to build local renewable energy plants here in Los Angeles County.

Click the link below to read the rest of The Planning Report’s interview with Gary Gero.

LA County’s First Chief Sustainability Officer To Regionally Advance SustainabilityThe Planning Report, January 16, 2017.

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