By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Early plans for the Green Path indicated it might go through protected areas of the Mojave Desert. Are there ways to mitigate the impact of these large towers and transmission lines in environmentally sensitive areas?
Sure. First, as a society we have to make a basic decision, which is, where you have a utility such as ours, approximately 50 percent of the energy comes from coal — is that something we find acceptable? The answer to that, I think, is no. And the answer to that is mandated to be no by the flurry of laws that we’ve had from Sacramento. Assuming that one has to therefore diversify away from a fuel such as coal, which is base-load power — power that you can use all the time — then you have to find an alternative which has the same dependable characteristics. Wind and solar don’t. They are by their very nature intermittent sources of power.
Geothermal is base-load power. So then, that brings us to the next logical step, which is that we have 4 million people living in Los Angeles, and they have to have electricity to live, because we can’t all go back to living in huts. So that means that as we diversify away from the filthiest of fuels, which is coal, we have to have an alternative, a renewable alternative, which generally does the same thing. And in order to do that, we have to have the transmission to bring it home.
We’re committed in this department to doing that transmission in the least impactful way. This is why currently, for Green Path alone, we have six alternative routes. There are all kinds of criteria that have to be looked at: For instance, one of the proposed routes would require condemning 3,500 properties and would cost a billion and a half dollars. All of these kinds of conditions need to be studied as we go through the very public environmental-review process.
I think at this moment in time, most of the environmental organizations, especially the national and state ones, accept that and are willing to support our efforts. In return, we’re willing to promise that we’ll only use that line for renewable energy, except for spot purchases and except for the fact that we have existing nuclear — existing nuclear, which is 8 percent — that will have to go on that line as well. But there’ll be no new nuclear, and no fossil fuels, on that line.
The LADWP is perceived as behind the curve on renewable energy compared to other state utilities, such as Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric. What’s gone wrong in the past that has kept Los Angeles from bringing in more green power?
I think when you say “behind the curve,” it depends on whether you’re talking about total numbers, total percentage or pace of change. If you’re talking about pace of change, we’re ahead of everybody. Just in the last two years since the mayor appointed the new commission, we’ve almost tripled our renewables, from under 3 percent to 8 percent. I don’t know that anybody else has accomplished that pace of change.
In terms of total numbers, I think Edison is at 16 percent. And we’re at 8 percent.
The reasons for it? I think there’s been a certain attitude of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We’ve got very reliable power from coal and gas primarily, and nuclear secondarily, at very low rates. I think that’s been the viewpoint. But it’s completely changed now. The LADWP today wants to be a leader in the field of renewable energy. Conservation, innovation, demand-side management, using less energy, prioritizing green building and restructuring rates to incentivize conservation — we’re at the forefront of all of that now.
Why is renewable energy important? Beyond climate change, beyond environmental concerns, why is it important to have renewable energy?
I’d offer a number of reasons. First, it’s necessary because it’s being imposed upon us. The law requires it. The profile of the LADWP right now includes 13 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, 13 pounds per megawatt-hour. That’s a very high level of emissions compared to other utilities in California. The new laws that are in effect are not going to tolerate it. That’s number one.
Number two, the people of Los Angeles aren’t going to tolerate it. People are very concerned about global warming. They understand the role that greenhouse-gas emissions play. Everybody accepts it as a reality, and as a result, I think people demand that change.
Next, it’s economically necessary. If you take a look at the volatility of natural-gas prices, it shows that you must diversify in order to take a hedge against the vagaries of the marketplace. As far as coal in particular is concerned, we’re at 47 percent coal right now. But that 47 percent accounts for 74 percent of our greenhouse-gas emissions.
Explain why you think renewable energy makes good economic sense.
I was on a panel the other day at the GreenXchange conference. The other panelists were all entrepreneurs. One of them was talking about new buildings and new construction standards; another was talking about new inventions in lighting, about how the incandescent light hasn’t changed now for decades, and now, all of a sudden, we have this explosion of new inventions in lighting: LEDs, compact fluorescents, all kinds of things. There was a gentleman there from Japan who has so advanced the design of cables that he’s actually succeeded in minimizing energy loss through the use of new cables.