20 Percent of L.A. Power from Rooftop Solar By 2020? That's The Goal!

Solar panels on Constellation PLace in Century City | Photo: Environment California

Now this is an audacious campaign! On the heels of the announcement by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) that it's weaning itself from coal as an energy source by 2025, a coalition of environmental and business groups wants the municipal utility to get 20 percent of its power from L.A. rooftop solar panels by 2020.

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The campaign, endorsed by both candidates in the upcoming Mayoral election was kicked off Tuesday with an event on the top floor of City Hall in Los Angeles, where representatives of a number of environmental groups spoke to express support for LADWP generating 1,200 megawatts of power -- a fifth of the utility's peak demand -- on L.A. rooftops.

Though LADWP's coal-free campaign is laudable, some climate and energy activists have expressed concern that the utility's alternative path might well ramp up its dependence on natural gas, or on badly sited renewable energy installations like its bird-killing Pine Tree Wind Farm. In the meantime, Los Angeles has hundreds of square miles of some of the sunniest rooftops in the U.S., and thousands of people who could use the work installing solar panels on those rooftops.

"Swapping out old and dirty coal plants for new and dirty gas plants would be a costly error when so much free sunshine falls on our homes and businesses every day," said Evan Gillespie of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in a press release. "At such a pivotal moment for L.A.'s energy future, a 20 percent local solar commitment is essential to moving L.A. forward."

According to "Solar in the Southland," a report released by Environment California to coincide with the launching of the "20 percent in 2020" campaign, Los Angeles' rooftops could actually generate 5,500 megawatts of power. That's about a tenth of the peak demand for the entire state, and the figure doesn't include power that could be generated by covering the city's abundant parking lots and other paved spaces.

Environment California is also calling on LADWP to expand its fledgling feed-in tariff program from its current 150 megawatts to 600 megawatts by 2020.

"LADWP is the nation's largest municipal utility, significant on the world stage," said Environment California's Michelle Kinman. "Its leadership on solar power -- and the broader clean energy transition -- will be crucial not only for Los Angeles and California, but also for the nation. We look forward to working with city leaders to turn this goal into a clean energy reality for generations to come."

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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