Solar installation on roof of Oxnard Plaza Apartments- LADWP photo

La’s Fit Program Is Now Online; What About San Diego?

By Roy L Hales

While he was campaigning for office, Mayor Filner suggested that San Diego could be powered by solar panels on the city’s rooftops and parking lots. This was to be an alternative to the “environmentally damaging” power lines going into East County. More recently, $2.8 million was set aside as a funding source in the 2014 budget. As we await further revelation, a similar, albeit slightly less ambitious, program has been unfolding to the north.

Thirteen days ago the city of Las Angeles flipped the switch on the largest Feed-in-tariff (FIT) program in North America. Unlike the rooftop solar we usually hear about, which powers individual residences or buildings, 100% of the energy produced from this system will go to the grid. During the next five years the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s FIT program is expected to:

  • Create 4,500 construction, installation, design engineering, maintenance and administration jobs right here in LA;
  • Power 43,000 typical LA households while offsetting 147,200 metric tons of carbon emissions;
  • Generate more than $500 million dollars in private investment and leverage $300 million in federal tax credits for LA Businesses;
  • Place half of the installations into the areas of LA that have both the highest solar potential and the highest economic need, creating jobs right where we have people ready to work.

Brad Cox, Senior Managing Director of Trammell Crow Company, said commercial property owners throughout Los Angeles should be thrilled about this program. “We have the largest underutilized rooftop capacity in California, and more than 300 days of sunshine a year,” Cox said. “This is a no-brainer: a cost-effective method for businesses to create economic opportunity while generating energy in the LA basin.”

It is an encouragement for those of us who perceive rooftop solar as an alternative to industrial scale solar farms in the desert.

Only the Las Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) will use both systems. Their first 50 MW of local solar will be bundled with a request for large, utility-scale solar that will be built on LADWP land in the Mojave Desert.

They intend to build at least 150 megawatts through the FIT program. That is in addition to the City’s existing rooftop solar initiatives for homes, businesses and large buildings that want to install net metered systems to offset their own power use.

According to Kimberly Hughes of the LADWP, some of the buildings that apply for the FIT program can utilize a separate system for their own needs. An apartment building, for example, might put solar panels on the roof through the FIT program and install another system for their own use on the carport.

The LADWP began accepting applications for the first 20 MW last February. The demand was almost seven times that amount – 136 MW! Sixty of these applications have passed the technical screening and, so far, 27 have received interconnection cost studies.

Mayor Villaraigosa, LADWP General Manager Ronald O. Nichols, LA Business Council President Mary Leslie, Communities for a Better Environment President Bill Gallegos, Solar Developer Christian Wentzel, and a coalition of key stakeholders who supported the program, gathered to officially “flip the switch” - Los Angeles Department of Water and Power PHOTO
Mayor Villaraigosa, LADWP General Manager Ronald O. Nichols, LA Business Council President Mary Leslie, Communities for a Better Environment President Bill Gallegos, Solar Developer Christian Wentzel, and a coalition of key stakeholders who supported the program, gathered to officially “flip the switch” at the  Oxnard Plaza solar installation on June 26, 2013 – LADWP photo

The first of these projects, on the rooftop of Oxnard Plaza Apartments, began feeding the grid on June 26. It is expected to generate generate 142,000 kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable solar energy annually. This is one of the smaller contracts in this first  trance. 80% of the FIT contracts will go to rooftops that can generate between 150 KW and 3 megawatts.

Ms Hughes told me that very few homeowners have roofs large enough to take part in the program.

The Mayor, LADWP General Manager Ronald O. Nichols, President of the Business Council and a collection of key stakeholders gathered to officially “flip the switch”

At that time the Mayor said, “Today, we took a major step forward in creating a clean energy future for Los Angeles by flipping the switch on the first installation to be completed through the LADWP Feed-in Tariff Program – the largest offered by any city in the nation. The FiT program takes advantage of LA’s abundant sunshine to spur new private sector investment that will create jobs and decrease our city’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels.”

LADWP General Manager Ronald O. Nichols pointed out that the FiT program is an important step forward in completely transforming the city’s power supply and meeting the state-mandated renewable energy level of 33% by 2020.

“This first completed FiT solar installation is physical proof that our FiT program is moving forward as we planned and we could not be more pleased to be here today to celebrate this milestone,” Nichols said. “It’s just the beginning of what we expect to be a long and beneficial public-private partnership. Within the next few years, Angelenos can expect to see thousands of solar panels installed on apartment buildings, warehouses, parking structures and other rooftops throughout the city.”

“A big advantage of local solar installations is that they generate clean, sustainable power right here in Los Angeles, avoiding the cost of building new transmission or taking up capacity on existing lines,” Nichols said. “This also avoids the cost of energy losses that occur when transporting energy from several hundred miles away.”

“When the LA DWP Feed-in Tariff program was passed, my team immediately recognized the opportunity it represents, and we decided to set up our US headquarters in downtown Los Angeles,” said Christian Wentzel, President and CEO of the Solar Provider Group, which is responsible for the Oxnard Plaza installation. “As this program grows, our LA office will be hiring positions for business development, project management, construction management, finance, electricians and solar installers. We are thrilled to be here and thank the city officials for their leadership.”

In the first tranche of this program, it was revealed that more than half of the projects are in areas of the city with both the highest solar potential and the highest economic need. Bill Gallegos, CEO of Communities for a Better Environment, was in attendance as well and emphasized the opportunity this brings for all Angelenos. We are concerned about the health and economic well-being of our community,” he said.  “What excites us about this program is the new opportunity it brings to address long standing issues in the communities of LA with high economic need. We will see job creation, small and medium-sized business development, and cleaner air to breathe.”

The LADWP began accepting applications for the second tranche of 20 MW this morning. Project applications that are received during the first five-day period (July 8 at 8:00 a.m. to July 12 at 4:00 p.m.) will be prioritized on the FiT Reservation List by lottery; applications thereafter will be prioritized in the order received. For each project that meets the qualifications, LADWP will enter into a standard offer contract for up to 20 years and purchase the power output at 16 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

Subsequent 20-MW allocations will be made available every six months through 2016 until the full 100 MW of solar capacity is subscribed. The price will decline according to a tiered price structure that caps the amount of power that can be reserved at each price. When each tier reaches its limit of reserve capacity, the price will be reduced by 1 cent per kWh and fall to the next tier.

All told, the LADWP FiT Program, originally proposed and supported by the Los Angeles Business Council and the CLEAN LA Solar Coalition, will generate at least 150 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable solar energy—enough energy to power over 43,000 typical homes and reduce 147 metric tons of CO2 emissions, which is equivalent to removing 28,300 cars off the road.

Incoming Mayor Eric Garcetti has indicated he would support the idea of expanding the program to 600 MW.

I can’t wait to see what San Diego is going to do!

(Photo at top of page: Solar installation on roof of Oxnard Plaza Apartments- LADWP photo)

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