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Friday, Dec 8, 2023

Harnessing the Sun’s Full Power

Sunny days are in ample supply in the San Fernando Valley. Yet for too long, local policymakers and utility bureaucrats have failed to embrace the power of the sun, fueled by skepticism about whether solar energy can truly power our future. Thankfully, the area got a big boost of solar confidence last month when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced in his State of the City address that L.A. has earned the distinction as the top solar energy leader in the country. According to a new report by Environment California Research & Policy Center, Los Angeles boasts more installed solar power than any other city in the country, followed by San Diego, Phoenix, San Jose and Honolulu. This is a moment to celebrate, as it did not happen by chance. Rather, it is the result of city leaders, businesses and citizens coming together to set – and achieve – ambitious clean energy goals. Over the past year, Los Angeles has greatly accelerated its commitment to solar power by establishing the largest urban feed-in tariff program in the nation. Under this program, solar power installations are encouraged on commercial, industrial and multifamily housing properties with low on-site energy demands, but high levels of sunshine. Property owners enter into a long-term agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power to sell the pollution-free energy they generate to the utility. The Los Angeles Business Council Institute recently evaluated this pioneering program, finding that the initial 100 megawatt feed-in tariff program is on track to meet its considerable economic and sustainability goals by 2015. These goals include creating more than 2,000 jobs, generating approximately $300 million in direct investment in the city, displacing as many as 2.7 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, and powering more than 21,000 homes with clean energy. Not surprisingly, given the area’s ample sunshine and vast empty rooftop spaces, the highest concentration of applicants for the program thus far has been in the San Fernando Valley. The Oxnard Plaza Apartments in North Hollywood is a case in point. The 80-unit apartment building features the first solar panels installed under the feed-in tariff program and will generate 42,000 kilowatt-hours of clean energy annually. If that alone isn’t enough to get you charged up, the company that installed the project, Solar Provider Group, moved its U.S. headquarters to Los Angeles and plans to hire up to 50 local employees and invest up to $50 million in the city, directly as a result of the feed-in tariff program. That’s an economic investment that’s hard to beat. Yet, we cannot afford to bask in the sunshine. Los Angeles has only scratched the surface of what it can – and must – do to ensure a clean energy future. Even as we celebrate L.A.’s status as the No. 1 solar leader in the country, we must recognize that only about 2 percent of the city’s energy needs are currently met by solar power. Over the next few years, City Hall and the LADWP will make critical decisions about the sources of energy that will power the city for decades to come. As a result of the challenges primarily facing LADWP’s fossil fuel fleet, the city will be replacing or repowering 70 percent of its current energy supply over the next 15 years. Los Angeles leaders should respond to these challenges by setting and achieving a visionary goal for generating energy from the sun on rooftops within the city, rather than simply building new fossil fuel plants that would lock Angelenos into a reliance on dirty power for decades to come. The city should make a bold commitment to solar power and, in the process, transform our economy, generate local jobs, protect our health and preserve our environment for generations. To be sure, there is more that LADWP can do to improve its solar permitting processes, reduce interconnection costs, and strengthen its outreach to the public regarding its solar programs. But most of all, Los Angeles needs to rise above the skepticism that has kept the city from making the most of its solar potential. As the Oxnard Plaza Apartments and numerous other projects are proving, solar power can work for our environment, our health and our pocketbooks. The sky’s the limit if only local leaders, businesses and citizens continue to set bold goals and work together to make these plans our reality. Michelle Kinman is clean energy advocate for Environment California Research & Policy Center, a statewide non-profit environmental-advocacy organization based in Los Angeles.

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