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

LADWP Solar Program Clears Hurdle

[Update: This story has been updated and corrected. See below note for explanation.]

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has avoided an obstacle in its implementation of its much-lauded new plan to buy solar from mid-sized solar power producers in the city. The Los Angeles City Council decided Tuesday not to send DWP's 100-megawatt feed-in tariff program to a Council committee for review and possible veto.

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Under DWP's Feed-in Tariff (FiT) program, the utility would sign agreements with owners of moderate-sized solar panel arrays to buy photovoltaic power from them at a price of up to 17 cents per kilowatt-hour. Solar arrays would need to be at least 30 kilowatts or larger to qualify for the program, placing the feed-in tariff well out of reach of most Los Angeles property owners.

Tuesday's Council action came in response to a motion by Ninth District Council member Jan Perry, who referred to charges by city Ratepayer Advocate Fred Pickel that the prices offered for the first 20-megawatt tranche of power purchase agreements under the FiT were too high. That motion stated, in part;

The Ratepayer Advocate (RPA) has expressed strong concerns about the FiT Program. The Ratepayer Advocate states that the pricing scheme adopted by the Board creates an additional $100 million in costs for DWP customers. The RPA recommends that the DWP consider an alternative pricing scheme that is more cost effective for its customers.

In her motion, Perry asked the Council to "assert jurisdiction" over DWP's approval of the FiT program and send it to committee for further review. Asserting jurisdiction essentially means that the Council would review the DWP's decision, and could have vetoed it with a two-thirds majority within 21 days.

But when the motion was presented Tuesday, according to the L.A. Business Council's Adam Jacobson, public testimony swayed the City Council to allow DWP to carry out the program as planned. Council member Perry essentially withdrew her motion, and a vote to formally "file" her motion as inactive passed with only one dissenting vote.

The DWP's Brooks Baker told ReWire that the FiT will be launching on schedule despite the averted delay, with applications being accepted starting February 1.

In the meantime, the eyes of the solar world are on the Los Angeles FiT, with some offshore observers seemingly shaking their heads at how we do things here. The German site Renewables International is rather blunt in its assessment:

One bizarre aspect of the policy is the lower limit of 30 kilowatts. An average household has roof space for a system of around 3-5 kilowatts, putting 30 kilowatts completely out of range. As a result, the average ratepayer will not even be able to participate in the policy, which should therefore properly be thought of as commercial, not residential. The limited application of feed-in tariffs is yet another strange understanding of FITs in the United States, where opponents of blanket feed-in tariffs -- such as California's Vote Solar (which has praised Los Angeles' proposed policy design) -- seem willing to compromise and agree to feed-in tariffs only for a particular part of the spectrum. Here, California is plugging a gap between net-metering for small residential systems and Power Purchase Agreements for utility-scale solar plants. But of course, FITs by system size could be used for all arrays, leaving no gaps.

Though the DWP program is the largest Feed-in Tariff in the U.S., Renewables International points out that at least one other program has it beat by proportion:

Gainesville, Florida, has offered four megawatts of feed-in tariffs a year for solar for a number of years... Even taking the more conservative figures, Los Angeles is at least 15 times bigger than Gainesville and potentially nearly 50 times bigger. Yet, Los Angeles's new feed-in tariff campaign only provides for 40 megawatts per year, just 10 times as much as in Gainesville. So L.A.'s program is smaller than Gainesville's in relative terms.

[Update: This article has been corrected. A previous version of the article misinterpreted the Council's vote and incorrectly claimed that the FiT program had been sent to committee. The error stemmed from my misunderstanding of Council records. I apologize for the error.]

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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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