“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.