Five months to the day after the City of Los Angeles’ highly touted and justly reviled Prop B. for solar power lost at the polls, the Department of Water and Power’s top wonkdom showed up at City Hall last week to explain what they planned to do instead to turn LA’s copious sunshine into useful energy.
Problem was, no one there seemed to expect them. The City Council’s Energy and Efficiency Committee did convene, and there was a DWP item on the agenda. But it had been so long since the committee had asked DWP topkick David Nahai to come up with a substitute plan–you might as well call it a Plan B for Prop. B — that some committee members had given up on ever hearing one. The press ignored the show too (which was repeated that afternoon at a DWP commission meeting).
So there you were last Tuesday, with a huge bureaucratic sequoia falling silently in the political forest. The only echo of which was a full color billboard outside City Hall. It showed our mayor and said that LA was “successful” in ending the dirty burning of coal. Actually that isn’t close to having happened yet. And Antonio will have stopped being mayor seven years before it is supposed to happen in 2020. I couldn’t figure out who paid for the billboard.
The new Plan B was not, in fact, all new — although it little resembled Prop. B. But first, a quick refresher course on that defunct initiative… Prop. B was apparently (the facts were never that clear) a proposal to give the DWP a monopoly installing a zillion new solar panels in LA. But many–including the neighborhood councils — saw the initiative as a super-costly boondoggle favoring the superbly salaried membership of the DWP’s all-powerful local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which strongly supported the mayor’s re election bid. And who would get to do all that work of bringing us another 400 megawatts of power via rooftop solar. Then there was a leaked insider report that the project was going to cost a lot more than claimed.. As the skeptics accumulated, Prop. B’s backers fought back with too little, too late. So what sounded, on the surface, like a nice way to put LA on the road to clean solar power fizzled at the polls March 5.
The Energy and Efficiency Committee three weeks later did a quick postmortem and singled out one key deficiency in Prop. B. It had been cooked up with a “lack of an inclusive public process” as the committee mildly put it. Then they asked for a replacement plan.
The semi-new result delivered last week offers gobs of public input–it plans public hearings literally from now to November. It also includes alternative ways of going solar–not just home rooftop panels but little solar co-ops in less affluent neighborhoods, huge solar arrays out in the surrounding deserts, and what seems to be (maybe I’m just being unduly optimistic) a more inclusive method of selecting possible panel installers. You can read it yourself on the DWP’s website–LADWP.com. If you happen to be a wonk yourself, much of this stuff, minus the public input, will be familiar. It’s from the DWP’s November Solar LA plan (It’s on the website too), which was kicked aside as as the politics-fueled Prop. B emerged at the end of last year.
There are still big problems, uncertainties and controversies; DWP figures it can make solar power the largest of LA’s electricity sources for around $1.6 billion. A consultant said it would cost more than twice that.. And any new costs could go to LA ratepayers, who are already paying a hike of over 20 percent in the past two years.
But solar has to happen, one way or the other. A few years after the 2020 deadline, coal powered electricity will be banned in California. That’s where over 40 percent of LA’s electricity now comes from (these power plants are out of state, so they only make smog for Arizona and Utah). If ratepayers want to keep rate increases at a minimum, they’d better attend some meetings and make themselves heard.
The DWP’s union seems to be out of the center of things this time out, interestingly enough. Maybe Antonio, now in his last possible term as mayor, figured the IBEW can’t really do much for him any more, wherever he goes next.