“This is the beginning of the end of natural gas in Los Angeles,” Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Monday.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has paused the rebuilding of three aging power plants to study whether they should continue using natural gas — or could take the leap into renewable energy as soon as possible.
As major climate legislation that would dramatically increase our investment in renewable energy approaches the Governor’s desk, this is a critical time to be thinking about low-income communities, including South Los Angeles, for whom the benefits of renewable energy investment have been largely out of reach.
The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), in partnership with my organization, Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), recently conducted an analysis of the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s most established renewable energy program, the Solar Incentives Program (SIP). We found that this residential rooftop solar initiative has left South L.A. behind, along with Wilmington, Boyle Heights, Pacoima and other communities.
This program offers incentives for residents who buy and install their own rooftop solar energy systems from private solar companies. In the past 15 years, LADWP has invested more than $115 million of ratepayer funds to support the development of residential rooftop solar.
To the west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in California’s vast, dry San Joaquin Valley, a catastrophe is unfolding. Drought-stricken growers, deprived of surface water for irrigation, are pumping ancient aquifers at a rate that will eventually extinguish them forever, should the water shortage persist. About 120 miles away, on the opposite side of the snow-starved mountain range, sits the Owens Valley. Here, the drought is merely an aggravating factor in a water crisis that began more than a century ago. In 1913, William Mulholland and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power completed the aqueduct that tapped the river that once irrigated the high desert basin and diverted it to the citrus groves of the San Fernando Valley, 200 miles to the south. Then in 1970, the LADWP completed its second aqueduct and began pumping the valley’s groundwater until all but a single major spring had run dry.
With all the hoopla about the centenary of the L.A. Aqueduct last week, I looked again at an article on a related piece of our history – the birth of public power. The early 20th Century was an age not entirely unlike our own, with high levels of inequality and most of the wealth controlled by a powerful few. It was in this climate that Los Angeles’ labor unions and working class communities fought for a publicly owned energy utility, to be sold at cost.
Jeff Stansbury argued in a 2011 L.A. Times opinion piece that while the reformers of the day are often credited for bringing public power to the city, they had actually allied themselves with L.A.’s three private electric companies, which wanted to control the power that would be generated by the aqueduct’s hydroelectric plants. Meanwhile, the Central Labor Council, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and other unions pushed for a citywide straw poll in 1911 that would come down on the side of municipal power for homes and businesses.
(This article first appeared in the Sierra Club journal Sierra and is republished with permission.)
The late-June weekend heat wave comes on as predicted. By 10 a.m., it’s 90°F in a South Los Angeles parking lot where scores of local residents have gathered, lured by community leaders and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP). Over the hum of the crowd, speakers take the stage for this Green the Block workshop: community organizers, environmentalists, labor union leaders and local politicians, all talking about the changing climate, the sputtering economy and the need to use less energy. It’s important stuff, but not particularly riveting. Meanwhile, it keeps getting hotter. By the time Ron Nichols, the utility’s general manager, takes the stage, the sun has chased people under canopies at either side of the lot and the chairs in front of him are almost empty.
You wouldn’t know it from the Los Angeles Times’ recent coverage, but the labor contract with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 18 currently under consideration by city officials is a good deal for Department of Water and Power (DWP) customers and the city as a whole, and city officials would be wise to approve it, even if there are minor changes made to the deal. A regular reader might also miss the fact that Los Angeles has some of the lowest utility rates and most reliable service in the region.
A cursory review of the L.A. Times website reveals that the newspaper has published some 18 stories on issues related to labor costs at DWP over the last year. (This accounting does not include the Times’ coverage of the mayoral campaign in which IBEW Local 18’s support of Wendy Greuel became an issue.) Meanwhile,
On May 15, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa celebrated the launch of the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s Small Business Direct Install (SBDI) energy efficiency program at Supermercado Latino, a neighborhood market near Memorial Coliseum in South Los Angeles. The market received free retrofits that will save it 44 percent on utility bills while helping reduce L.A.’s reliance on coal power. SBDI is one of the key initiatives won by RePower LA, a coalition committed to saving Angelenos money on their energy bills, reducing dependency on dirty coal and creating local, career-path jobs for L.A.’s hardest-hit areas. RePower LA has also been instrumental in the creation of the Home Energy Improvement Program (HEIP) and the Utility Pre-Craft Training program (UPCT).
“The cleanest, cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use,” said Villaraigosa. “The Small Business Direct Install program helps reduce the carbon footprint of small businesses that would otherwise be unable to afford energy audits and retrofits.”
Through the SBDI,
At a time when there are so few programs that create good career-path jobs, it’s exciting to see one that is doing just that. RePower LA worked with IBEW Local 18 and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to support the creation of the Utility Pre-Craft Training (UPCT) program. Launched in 2011, this is a program that creates real jobs and has a real impact on the lives of real everyday people.
Recently, I was asked to attend a training session at a labor-management joint-training institute. I was excited to talk one-on-one with the men and women who have been accepted into this unique on-the-job training program that prepares workers for careers in the utility.
There were two things that struck me immediately when I met this group of trainees. First was the incredible diversity of the group: old and young,
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) recently released its “Energy Efficiency Portfolio Business Plan” for fiscal years 2012-2014. For the past few years, LADWP has been talking the talk about doing more energy efficiency, and (importantly) using efficiency as its top priority resource for getting out of coal power. This plan shows that LADWP is walking the walk!
Particularly impressive aspects of the plan:
Overview of the plan:
When Californians passed Proposition 39 last year, they voted for more carbon reduction, school improvements and jobs – all through a five-year, $2.5 billion program using revenues from newly closed tax loopholes to pay for investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Now state policymakers are making critical decisions as they craft the guidelines for this massive new investment.
School facilities are the primary target of Proposition 39 retrofitting efforts. But if the measure is going to deliver on its promises of carbon reduction, healthier schools and neighborhoods, long-term career opportunities and a timely economic boost for communities that need it the most, the proposition needs to be implemented right.
I’ve been studying the green jobs sector since its early days, and my research and observations suggest some important recommendations.
Last week I stood with hundreds of proud Angelenos outside the Department of Water and Power headquarters in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate a momentous announcement for the city and our environment. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proclaimed that Los Angeles will be completely off of coal power before 2025.
It will be a monumental shift.
“It took one hundred years to build up the power supply the DWP has today,” the Mayor explained, “but in a decade and a half, we’re going to replace 70 percent of it.” “Right now, 40 percent of our power comes from coal plants. But by 2025, that number will be zero.”
With the spotlight on our city, we were joined by national environmental leaders such as former Vice President Al Gore and Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune.
“This is a really big deal,” Gore said emphatically. “Americans worry that government is broken,
(Editor’s Note: Living in Los Angeles is a day-to-day experiment requiring patience and improvisational skills. So does governing this sprawling metropolis of 3.8 million people. The city’s next mayor, however, cannot be satisfied with merely coping with issues as they arise, but must be able to look forward and anticipate and define the city’s needs for the next four years. To this end we’ve asked writers to share their thoughts about what lies ahead – and around the corner – for Los Angeles.)
Going green may be all the rage. But get into the weeds and you may lose a few people. Take energy efficiency. Yes, it’ll save you money, create good jobs (if done right) and help us preserve the planet. But walk into a party and start talking about window caulking, attic insulation and compact fluorescent bulbs, and you may soon find yourself alone in a corner.
William Anderson knows more than anybody about the negative effects of coal. He’s the Tribal Chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, who occupy 70,000 acres of land northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. He has seen his tribal members sickened by pollution from a nearby power plant. He worries about the impact of the pollution on his three-year-old son.
Anderson jumped at the opportunity to advocate for a giant solar project that will provide power to the reservation, as well as to the 1.4 million customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). The project will be developed by K Road Power Holdings on reservation land, with the tribe’s participation, and produce enough energy to power more than 100,000 homes.
I got a chance to sit down with Anderson after the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the K Road Moapa Project.
After a presentation by Climate Resolve on the local impacts of climate change last month, our host, Jonathan Parfrey, jokingly told us that anti-depressants would be passed out at the door. Gallows humor is understandable and – for me – always necessary when faced with hard truths. But dare I say that I also felt slightly more hopeful armed with information that would help us plan for the future?
This briefing, held at the Municipal Water Department, presented the first in a series of studies, sponsored by the City of L.A. and the U.S. Department of Energy, that focused on how climate change will impact L.A. County by mid-century. A lot of complex modeling went into the study, and – in this era of climate science denial – our presenter, Dr. Alex Hall, the study’s lead author, was at pains to explain it to us.
In Los Angeles, the reins of power lie in the hands of a very few. By “power” I mean “electricity,” and there are only a few men and women whose job it is to procure and dispense it. Last week I wrote about the “Magic City,” and all the unseen infrastructure and work that goes into delivering the power and water that we city dwellers usually take for granted. There may be no better example of this unseen work than a certain unremarkable-looking Los Angeles Department of Water and Power building. Inside is a two-story main control room lined with a schematic map of the power system, a 180-degree wrap-around diagram that lights up where there are trouble spots and gives workers a robotic bird’s-eye view of L.A.
It is from this nondescript building that the LADWP brings in electricity from all over the American West, no easy task considering that our usage varies dramatically depending on the season and time of day.
We all learn many important lessons from our parents. One lesson that I learned from my father was this: If you cut through a pipeline that’s carrying raw sewage you should be really, really sure that it’s not under pressure before you start. Unfortunately, this was something I discovered through actual observation when my father tried to fix our septic system and was sprayed down with a putrid stream of human waste as a reward for his efforts.
This is the type of home repair that I, now an Angeleno, never need to make on my own. Because I am currently a fancy city-dweller, I no longer have to take my trash to the dump, fix potholes in the road or do all of the other chores that are part of everyday country life but are magically taken care of when one lives in the city.
Not only do I get to avoid these day-to-day chores,
(Editor’s Note: Thanks to the strong advocacy of the Natural Resources Defense Council and others in the RePower LA coalition, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has taken important steps towards becoming the greener, more efficient utility that will power the region through the next century. Earlier this summer, the LADWP Board more than doubled its investment in energy efficiency, and it recently followed that by embracing strong principles to guide future policy.)
The resolution commits LADWP to “aggressively promote and achieve energy efficiency across all customer segments and energy end uses as a key part of LADWP’s long-term, supply-side energy procurement strategy.”
What does this mean?
A question that is being asked by talking heads on the right-wing yak shows lately is, “Where are all the green jobs?” Well, there is a simple answer: Those jobs are here in the Southwest, my little conservative Debbie Downers. All over Southern California, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona you will find massive solar projects with thousands of construction workers getting their first paychecks in months or, in some cases, years. There are so many solar-energy jobs helping us climb out of the absolute depression in the electrical industry that you can’t swing a Birkenstock and not hit one.
That’s right, despite their efforts to kill every single meaningful jobs bill in the House and Senate for the last four years, conservatives have failed to stop the sprouts and shoots of the new green economy.
Why is it happening now? There is a requirement for all of California’s electric utilities to buy 33 percent of our power from renewable energy sources by 2020.
(In today’s Los Angeles Daily News, staff writer Dakota Smith reports on one of the city’s most promising initiatives — an energy efficiency program that is saving consumers money, creating jobs and reducing our energy use. The project, a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 , the union representing the utility’s workers, and the Department of Water and Power, has received strong support from RePower LA, a broad-based coalition that promotes the economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency.)
Lorraine Cannon stretches every dollar. The 84-year-old lives off a monthly retirement check from L.A County, and she shares her Pacoima house with her granddaughter and three young great-grandchildren.
But now helping to pay the bills is an unlikely source: the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Cannon’s house was picked for an energy efficiency makeover by the department,