23 Stories That Show Solar Power Can Be Successful Anywhere in L.A.

Renee La Pan and Mangesh Hoskote with the solar panels at the Vedanta Society in Hollywood. | Photo: Environment California Research & Policy Center

The stereotype of affluent California rooftop solar owners persists enough that it's being used effectively in anti-solar campaigns. And there certainly are a lot of wealthy Californian individuals and businesses taking advantage of solar. But though there's certainly room for improvement in the way we make rooftop solar's benefits available to people without a lot of cash to throw around, the field isn't just limited to the rich -- even in stylish Los Angeles.

That's according to "Solar in the Spotlight: Stories of Angelenos Investing in a Clean Energy Future" -- a report released today by Environment California offering 23 human-interest-style case studies of solar installations throughout Los Angeles and environs. The stories range from modest homes, to local businesses and community churches, to the titans of L.A.'s flagship industry.

And each case profiled shows that there's good reason to go solar in Los Angeles.

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"These stories demonstrate the diversity of L.A.'s burgeoning solar market, which has grown by more than 800 percent over the last six years," said co-author Emily Kirkland, Clean Energy Associate at Environment California. "The report shows that L.A. is home to every type of solar project under the sun, from a solar-powered convent to a solar-powered car wash to a solar-powered convention center."

The projects profiled range from a 225-kilowatt array atop the Hollywood Center Studios and 390 kilowatts' worth of solar at the Fox studios in Century City to more modest setups like Van Nuys homeowner "Pat's" 3.4 kilowatts on her roof.

Other L.A. solar sites profiled include a car wash in Pacific Palisades, a chain discount supermarket in Eagle Rock, a Canoga Park vegetarian market and restaurant, and a Hollywood monastery belonging to the Vedanta Society. (OK, maybe the last two don't exactly challenge stereotypes about L.A. solar owners. But good for them anyway.)

Some of the projects profiled do indeed break the stereotype of affluence: a homeowner's panels in the Crenshaw district and a multi-unit block of apartments in Koreatown providing examples. One frankly inspiring project atop the Skid Row Housing Trust's St. George Hotel at Main and 3rd in downtown allows the Trust to spend more of its budget providing services to its clients and less paying electric bills for the 1,500 low-income apartments it manages. Small businesses, manufacturers, and churches are well-represented in the study as well.

And the projects are just as diverse in how they got off the ground as they are in their ownership. Some of the solar sites profiled were bought for cash on the barrelhead by the property owners. Some were obtained through the increasingly popular solar leasing model, in which a solar company rents you solar panels on your own roof and you get lower utility bills as a result. At least one owner bought some of his panels and leased others. And the Skid Row Housing Trust got panels through a donation from BP Solar.

There's also diversity relayed in how well the projects came off. Most people raved about their projects, but the aforementioned K-Town apartment block, the Little Tokyo Service Center's (LTSC) Menlo Apartments, suffered utility snafus keeping it off the grid until, well, now. As the report says:

The building opened its doors six months ago, but because of LADWP delays, the solar panels still aren't hooked up to the grid. LTSC staff are hopeful that the panels will be switched on soon. "Kinks in the system," explains [LTSC's project manager Thomas] Yee, who remains enthusiastic about L.A.'s effort to go solar.

Despite the occasional snafu, Environment California is pushing Los Angeles to take the good examples in its report and replicate them across the city. Among other measures, the group is proposing that L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council set a formal target of 1,200 megawatts of local solar by 2020, and that LADWP should quadruple its 150 megawatt feed-in tariff program.

The 20 percent by 2020 goal, which would increase L.A.'s solar by more than ten times, would cut the city's carbon dioxide emissions by about 1.1 million tons a year. That's a reduction greater than the annual CO2 emissions of 53 countries, and equivalent to taking about 230,000 conventional cars off the road for good.

Or if you're looking for vegetarian food in the San Fernando Valley, that's about 400,000 fewer Priuses beating you to that parking spot.

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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