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Villaraigosa Seeks an End to Coal Power

Jul 5, 2009 - Daily Breeze

Even with the prospects of higher rates, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is pushing to speed the conversion of the Department of Water and Power from cheap coal power to expanded use of renewable energy.

In his inaugural address Wednesday, Villaraigosa declared a goal of achieving 40percent renewable energy by the year 2020 and 60percent by 2030 - in what he said would lead to a "path to permanently break our addiction to coal."

"There is no question that this is going to have a rate impact," said David Freeman, the former DWP head who is now Villaraigosa's deputy mayor on energy. "But we are also going to upgrade our efficiencies. And the costs we are paying are small compared to the health risks we are facing.

"We have a president of the United States who is preaching the gospel about renewable energy and here we have a mayor doing something about it."

But with the failure of the Measure B solar energy proposal in March, Freeman said there is a recognition that much more has to be done to win public support.

Plans are in the works for a series of hearings by the City Council's Energy and Environment Committee and reviews by the city's neighborhood councils in coming weeks.

Measure B was defeated as a result of a grass-roots campaign that unified many neighborhood councils and others who had questions over the program being developed and its reliance on the DWP's union workers to do all the work.

Jack Humphreville, who was active in that opposition campaign and serves on the DWP Oversight Board, remains skeptical of a renewable energy program unless there are changes.

"We recognize that we have to do something because California utilities will not be allowed to build new coal plants or renew their contracts," Humphreville said. "The question is what can we do to protect ratepayers."

The DWP long has relied on coal power from plants in Utah and Arizona to provide most of the energy used in the city.

"We are facing a day where that won't be available to us," Freeman said. "Or the cost will be so high that it makes sense to invest in the renewable infrastructure.

"We won't get it all built in four years. But the mayor has made clear to me and the DWP that he wants to have contracts and work in place to get us on the road to renewable energy. My job is to monitor the DWP to make sure it gets done."

President Obama on Thursday continued to stress the need for clean energy, saying his plan is designed to double the amount of renewable energy in the country.

Villaraigosa has been lobbying for Los Angeles to get more of the stimulus money and envisions a clean tech corridor to serve as a base for the new green jobs hoped for.

The mayor has been pushing a green agenda since his first election, with efforts to reduce pollution at the harbor with a Clean Trucks Program and efficiencies at Los Angeles International Airport. In addition, the DWP has quadrupled its renewable energy use.

Freeman and others argue the renewable energy costs are justified and far less than other related expenses.

Felicia Marcus, western director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the higher upfront costs will result in long-term savings.

"This saves in the long run by developing the renewable infrastructure you need, but in the long run there are no costs for the fuel costs," Marcus said. "The wind and the sun are free power and you don't have to pay the costs of coal."

And Freeman said the one thing Southern California has in abundance is solar power.

"We have sun all around us," Freeman said. "It's hotter than hell in the deserts to the north of us and to the south of us. And there are wind farms coming up all over. There are winds in Wyoming so strong that it knocks cars over. We are rich in renewable resources and all we have to do is tap into them."


Updated: 2016/06/30

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