L.A. City Council takes control of DWP solar program
Solar Incentive Program
LOS ANGELES, Calif.—The City Council took the rare action today of voting to take control of a popular Solar Incentive Program run by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, based on concerns it will benefit businesses more than homeowners.
The council voted 11-1 to assert its authority to overrule the department, which recently made changes to the incentive levels.
The program, which provides rebates to homeowners and businesses for installing rooftop solar systems, was so popular it had to be postponed in April after demand for rebates outpaced the department’s $30 million budget.
The department is set to re-launch the program Sept. 1 with a bigger budget of $60 million for the fiscal year, but about a 40 percent lower incentive level for an average residential system.
“The DWP commission has taken aggressive actions to reduce the incentives for homeowners to install rooftop solar panels,” Councilman Tony Cardenas said. “I am concerned that the steep cut to the residential incentive can do serious, long-term damage to the city’s goal of creating more sustainable energy.”
Cardenas said the rates could also “decimate a fledgling industry that we are trying to cultivate in our region.”
DWP General Manager Ron Nichols defended the new levels, saying the lower incentives will result in more solar power on rooftops.
Nichols said that under the previous program DWP was overpaying customers to install solar photovoltaic systems. The rebate was about $3.25 per watt under the guidelines earlier this year.
The department lowered the rate for residential customers based on market research to $2.20 per watt, still about 40 percent higher than the $1.55 per watt the state pays.
Nichols said the incentives have been divided almost evenly between residential and commercial customers.
Another reason to keep incentives at market levels is that solar prices are falling, Nichols said.
“If we put all the money out there now, we’ll be buying solar at today’s rates, and we want a program that has long range, that creates lasting jobs, not just some carpetbaggers that work through our service territory then move on,” Nichols said.
Under a 2006 state law, the department was given a goal of adding 280 megawatts of new solar energy and mandated to spend $313 million on the incentive program through 2016.
The department has added 34 megawatts since 2007 and has an additional 36 megawatts set to go online once applications are processed and inspections completed. LADWP hopes to add an additional 25 megawatts through the re-launched incentive by the end of next year.
The department held two public meetings and received input from more than 400 stakeholders, including solar panel installers and interested customers. Nichols acknowledged that some installation companies were upset about the lower incentives.
A coalition of six residential installation companies—Sungevity, Suntech, SolarCity, Verengo Solar Plus, SunRun, and Yingli Solar—released a statement criticizing the program.
“My company was poised to grow and hire and open a whole new facility in L.A., and now all of that is in doubt because of all of these major, not small, but major cuts in homeowner rebates.”
Verengo President Ken Button told the council. “This is going to turn back the clock to a time when only the wealthy can afford solar.”
Other solar installation companies asked the council to let the program go forward as passed by DWP.
Councilman Paul Krekorian said he was concerned that forcing the department to change its incentives would delay important projects. “When you all get visited by lobbyists for particular solar industry businesses, keep in mind that there’s probably somebody on the other side of that equation who’s going to be hurt if there’s further delay,” Krekorian said.
Councilman Tom LaBonge expressed a wider concern that the incentive program goes to private citizens instead of public projects that could benefit the entire city. “If we were really interested, we would do every schoolhouse, every park, every public building, every library first before we give any benefit to others, so we can benefit the greater public,” he said.
The council is expected to debate the issue Tuesday and vote whether or not to force the department to change the incentives or allow it to go forward as originally approved.
By Richie Duchon | City News Service
Prior to Laura Chick taking office as Los Angeles city controller in 2001, few in the public really paid close attention to the audits that were the exclusive domain of that department.
The charter establishes the controller as an elected official and gives that individual responsibility for serving as the auditor and chief accounting officer of the city.
LOS ANGELES, Calif.—The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is a step closer to launching a pilot program that will allow customers to sell their excess solar energy to the utility for delivery to the rest of the city, a spokesman said today.
The LADWP announced that after receiving 26 submissions, the application period to be a part of the feed-in tariff, or FiT, program was closed.
LOS ANGELES, Calif.—For the third time this year the Los Angeles City Council today was forced to cancel its meeting because not enough members showed up.
Another meeting was canceled less than a month ago on Sept. 29.
Council President Pro Tem Jan Perry apologized to the public for not having enough members to legally hold a council meeting and said the items on today’s agenda would be added to Tuesday’s agenda.
LOS ANGELES, Calif.—Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and two council members named their appointments today to a five-member residents committee that will help create a Department of Water and Power watchdog office.
The committee is charged with appointing the first executive director of the Office of Public Accountability, which will analyze DWP programs and rates and advocate on behalf of customers.
LOS ANGELES, Calif.—The city wastes about $1 million per year on nearly 12,000 city-owned cell phones, City Controller Wendy Greuel said today.
Greuel's audit of seven city departments found that the city failed have any central oversight of cell phone contracts, and that no one department is responsible for ensuring city policies are followed.
Twenty percent of all staffers in non-revenue-generating departments have a cell phone, and the annual cost comes to about $4.8 million, according to Greuel.