News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

California Cities Snub Fossil Fuels, Nuclear Power

California cities to old-school energy: Do Not Want | Photo: London Commodity Markets/Flickr/Creative Commons License

California's leading cities are sending messages to the energy industry powers-that-be on Tuesday, and that message is "we want change." On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council finalized a much-lauded agreement to wean the city's Department of Water and Power (LADWP) off coal-fired electricity, and went on to oppose reopening of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. On that same day, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging the city's pension fund managers to sell off their interests in fossil fuel companies.

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San Francisco, with its consolidated city and county government, has a county Board of Supervisors running municipal affairs in place of the usual City Council.

The San Francisco resolution, which supervisors adopted unanimously, would pull $580 million in the city's pension funds now invested in 200 fossil fuel companies over the next five years. In an indication of just how unfavorable fossil fuel investments are these days, the city's pension fund analysts predict that divestment would increase portfolio risk by about a hundredth of a percent. The non-binding resolution must be adopted by San Francisco's Retirement Board to become official, but that's reasonably likely given the unanimous supervisorial vote.

"I think it is really important that more than just making a statement, we make that statement with our dollars. In many ways that is the more important way to show what our political principles are," San Francisco District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim told reporters.

Meanwhile, L.A.'s City Council also gave unanimous approval Tuesday to LADWP's decision to phase out power purchases from Arizona's coal-burning Navajo Generating Station in 2015, and Utah's Intermountain Power Plant by 2025.

"The pending costs of the climate crisis mount every day," says Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz. "UCLA's ground-breaking climate change study shows, for instance, that the number of extreme heat days in our Valley neighborhoods will likely quadruple, which will cause energy bill spikes for our constituents. We need to do everything in our power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. Getting the City off of coal power is a historic step in the right direction."

"LADWP sends more than half a billion dollars per year out of state to buy dirty coal," added Aura Vasquez of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, which has lobbied hard to shift LADWP off coal-fired power. "With these new agreements in place, Los Angeles will be able to better invest on programs that can lower our energy bills -- building rooftop solar and making homes and businesses more energy efficient."

Nuclear power isn't escaping the notice of the state's leading cities, either. Also on Tuesday, L.A.'s City Council gave yet another unanimous vote in favor of a resolution opposing the restart of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station's Unit 2. The plant's owner Southern California Edison is proposing to run Unit 2 at 70 percent of capacity for a test period to see whether lower power operations will avoid vibrations that seem to have contributed to a leak of radioactive steam from the plant's Unit 3.

The L.A. City Council resolution asks the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to take adequate time to fully examine the plant's condition and SCE's startup plan to ensure public safety. With Tuesday's resolution, Los Angeles signs on to a roster of California cities on record as opposing San Onofre's restart, including Del Mar, Encinitas, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Santa Monica, Solana Beach, Vista, Berkeley, and Fairfax.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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