L.A. Rooftop Solar Quadruples In Two Years

Phog-ovoltaic? PV panels at the Santa Monica Civic Garage | Photo: Omar Bárcena/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's still a long way from what it could be, but rooftop solar in Los Angeles is growing by leaps and bounds. That's according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), which reports that its electric power customers are signing up for the utility's Solar Incentive Program in record numbers. Program participants installed 22 megawatts of rooftop solar in the DWP's 2011-2012 fiscal year: that's up from nine megawatts the year before, and five megawatts in 2009-2010.

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The increase happened despite the incentive program taking a five-month hiatus last year, though that's not surprising as the hiatus was spurred by the sheer volume of people applying for solar incentives in early 2011, which overwhelmed DWP staff and threatened to run out the program's budget.

"Our goal in retooling the program last year was to align the incentive levels with market pricing so that a greater number and diversity of customers could benefit from solar power," said Ronald O. Nichols, LADWP General Manager, in a press release. "I think the results of the past year have demonstrated we were successful."

DWP's Solar Incentive Program offers property owners looking to install solar panels a subsidy, if their system is approved by the utility. The amount of that subsidy varies with the size of the system, but it can cover as much as 75% of project costs for residential, government, and non-profit projects, and 50% for commercial systems. Total incentives paid out were in excess of $60 million. Participants also save on their utility bills through the utility's net metering program, receiving a credit for excess electricity their solar system sends to the grid until the customer's electric bill is zeroed out.

"If the pace we are seeing today continues, by this fall, we will exceed 100 MW of net metered solar capacity that is either built or in the queue to be built," said Aram Benyamin, Senior Assistant General Manager of the LADWP Power System.

LADWP is the largest publicly owned utility in the U.S. with four million residents. The utility is capable of meeting peak power demands of 7,200 megawatts -- 72 times the expected solar net metering capacity mentioned above. That 100 megawatts isn't anywhere near the five and a half gigawatts UCLA's Luskin Center says L.A. could generate with rooftop solar, but it's a start.

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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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