A Big Step Forward in Debate Over LA’s Clean Energy Future

Mayor Eric Garcetti reaffirmed Los Angeles’ commitment to securing a carbon- and pollution-free energy future for Angelenos in a groundbreaking announcement today that the nation’s largest municipal utility will not be moving forward with a controversial plan to rebuild three of its natural gas plants.

The announcement related to Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) will help move Los Angeles along the path toward meeting California’s goal of a carbon-free electric grid by 2045.

Los Angeles Department Water and Power

What specific changes can we expect?

LADWP, which serves over 4 million people in a 465-square-mile area, will still plan to procure the least-cost energy, but now in the context of meeting the state’s 100 percent clean electricity goal under SB100 signed into law last year.

The mayor said that as long as LADWP continues investing in batteries and other clean energy technologies, there should be no electricity service issues if the Scattergood plant is retired by 2024. and the Haynes and Harbor plan by 2029. 

The mayor announced that the existing power planning process, referred to as the Strategic Long-Term Resource Plan (SLTRP), will be halted until a study to determine what investments should be made to achieve a 100 percent renewable energy supply, commissioned by the city of Los Angeles and conducted by the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), is completed. This is a planning paradigm shift through which LADWP should be able to develop the most cost-efficient path toward a carbon-free electric grid.

As Mayor Garcetti told the Los Angeles Times before today’s formal announcement:

“It’s the right thing to do for our health. It’s the right thing to do for our Earth. It’s the right thing to do for our economy. And now is the time to start the beginning of the end of natural gas.”

Why This Matters

The mayor’s announcement is a welcome relief for a city plagued by the impacts of air pollution and climate change. California is already bearing the cost of climate change and is expected to continue to experience extreme climate hazards, from sea level rise to an increase in wildfires, due to an increase in global emissions. Los Angeles is in the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), home to 17 million Californians living in the most populous area of the most populous state in our nation. LADWP’s energy choices not only have an impact on its 4 million customers but also the air breathed by 17 million Californians in the district.

According to  SCAQMD, the region is also home to some of the worst air quality in California. Even more so, a study  by Cal State Fullerton, concluded that the cost of pollution translates into more than $1,250 per person per year, totaling nearly $22 billion annually. Clean energy is integral to a healthy and thriving future for the city of Los Angeles.

Meeting Los Angeles’ Energy Needs Sustainably and Affordably

NRDC is committed to working with LADWP to develop a transparent, accessible, and thorough planning process that keeps electricity affordable while reducing emissions and air pollution. The recently released California Public Utilities Commission procurement plan provides a model plan that advises California’s electricity providers to invest solely in renewables and storage to meet all future electric-load requirements while complying with the state’s 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goals. LADWP can do better by developing a 100 percent renewable energy future through investing in energy efficiency and smaller distributed energy resources (locally generated) such as rooftop solar and electric vehicles.

These distributed energy resources not only reduce customer’s energy bills, they also will improve LA residents’ quality of life. A forthcoming study from NRDC’s Energy Efficiency For All (EEFA) program demonstrates how investing in energy efficiency programs that specifically benefit residents of affordable housing can provide the city a pathway to equity, clean energy and jobs.

Background: How We Got Here

In the past few months there has been heated debate over the city’s energy future. At the center of the debate, clean energy advocates questioned LADWP intentions to possibly invest billions of dollars to rebuild three aging gas-fired power plants along the coast. LADWP had proposed continued repowering of gas turbines in its 2017 Final Power Strategic Long-Term Resource Plan. The utility argued that energy from wind, solar, and efficiency – with the help of battery technology and other innovations – is not yet robust or reliable enough to meet immediate electricity demand.

Many environmental organizations and environmental justice organizations, including Pacoima Beautiful, Communities for a Better Environment, Sierra Club, and Food & Water Watch, were concerned the proposed repowering of the gas plants made it appear the utility was committing to dirty energy that would exacerbate the health risks borne by millions of Californians. DWP’s message seemed to be in stark contrast to the climate leadership of the city and the state.

As recently as September 2016, the Los Angeles City Council approved a measure directing LADWP to map out a path away from fossil fuels and toward 100 percent clean energy. The commitment to forge forward and source clean energy was further cemented with last year’s signing of SB 100 (sponsored by Senate President Pro tempore Emeritus Kevin de León) and Executive Order B-55-18 issued by Gov. Jerry Brown, which call for a 100 percent clean electricity requirement for the state, and a new target to achieve carbon neutrality – both by 2045.  Furthermore, SB 32 and SB 350 (De León. Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015) requires the electric sector to achieve its share of 40 percent emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2030, along with doubling energy efficiency goals.

Onward

Today’s announcement reconfirms the Mayor’s commitment to staying the course and finding reliable clean energy solutions. It’s also a great tribute to the hard work done by local environmental and environmental justice organizations.

NRDC, along with several clean energy advocates, has been engaged in LADWP’s 100% Renewables Advisory Committee process, to ensure clean energy is not a mere aspiration but a reality. We look forward to working with LADWP so that that sustainability and equity continue to be core values.

About the Authors

Michele Knab Hasson

California Policy Manager, Energy Efficiency for All, Healthy People & Thriving Communities program

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