With Los Angeles planning to phase out three natural gas power plants, a solar power company released a report Friday suggesting the energy could be replaced with a “virtual” plant established by an expansion of residential solar panels and batteries.
The report by Sunrun comes on the heels of a call by a coalition of business, environmental and civic leaders earlier this week for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to expand a pilot program allowing hundreds of building owners to install rooftop solar panels and then sell the electricity generated into the utility’s power grid.
The Sunrun report concluded the penetration of local rooftop solar in Los Angeles is low compared to other areas in Southern California. The city is home to about 182 megawatts of residential rooftop solar power installed on 36,000 homes, which represents only 2.5% of LADWP’s 1.34 million total residential customers, according to the report. By comparison, 139,000 homeowners, or 11% of San Diego Gas & Electric’s 1.25 million residential customers, have adopted solar for a total of 740 megawatts of installed capacity.
The report also found that if Los Angeles supports various programs that would result in solar panels on at least 75,000 homes, it would replace the peak capacity of one of LADWP’s retiring gas plants while saving millions of dollars.
Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced that the LADWP will be phasing out three gas-fired power plants by 2029 as part of a part of a plan to transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2045.
“This is the beginning of the end of natural gas in Los Angeles,” Garcetti said in February. “The climate crisis demands that we move more quickly to end dependence on fossil fuel, and that’s what today is all about.”
In order to replace the power generated by the three plants, Garcetti said he directed the LADWP to shift focus to its 100 percent Renewable Energy Study. A $10 million analysis began in 2017 with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to determine a feasible path to 100 percent clean energy.
Sunrun — being a solar company — has a vested interest in seeing the technology expand as part of L.A.’s energy goals, but it is not alone in calling for the city to move forward on larger commitments to residential solar panels.
The Los Angeles Business Council and other leaders sent a letter to LADWP Board of Water and Power Commission President Mel Levine this week that called for an expansion of the Feed-in Tariff, or FiT, solar pilot program. The program has reached capacity with all 150 megawatts originally authorized either installed or active, along with a waitlist of interested participants, according to the LABC.
“This is a moment that calls for big-picture thinking,” said City Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who chairs the Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee. “We need to accelerate our transition to clean energy even faster by quickly scaling the FiT program to generate more renewable energy, and consistent with the call for a Green New Deal for Los Angeles, we must seize the opportunity to be first in the nation to commit to targeting the environmental and economic benefits of this groundbreaking approach to our hardest hit front-line and disadvantaged communities.”
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