Los Angeles Steps Up Transition Toward 100% Renewable Energy

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The LA Mayor declared the city won’t spend $5 billion to re-power three aging natural gas plants, and instead called for transitioning the nation’s largest municipal utility to 100% clean, renewable energy: but how will we get there?

Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles, LADWP

Mayor Garcetti makes his announcement that Los Angeles’ municipal utility will NOT re-purpose dirty, aging natural gas plants, so now what? Photo by jack Eidt.

Toward a Localized Green New Deal in Los Angeles

In the climate justice movement, political procrastination spells polluted communities and runaway climate destabilization. So, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the nation’s largest municipal utility won’t spend $5 billion to rebuild three natural-gas-fired power plants along the coast in favor of clean renewable solar and wind with increased battery storage capacity, we wondered: what’s the catch?

In his February 12 press conference, the Mayor stepped up and proclaimed that while using equity as a frame, we must rethink how we get our energy, and how we power our economy. “In Los Angeles,” he said, “this is what a Green New Deal looks like.”

A bold move from a mayor not known for getting to the heart of the matter. The city will phase out by 2029 the ten gas-fired generators at three polluting units at Scattergood, Harbor, and Haynes that together represent 38 percent of the city’s natural gas portfolio. This reversed an earlier decision by the LA Department of Water and Power (DWP) to extend the life of the gas generators by upgrading to meet stringent standards around ocean water cooling, which can harm marine life.

Thus, California’s largest city takes a step toward meeting its requirement to get 100% of its electricity from climate-friendly sources by 2045, up from a previous target of 50% renewable by 2030.

Harbor Cogeneration Station, LADWP

Natural-gas-fired Harbor Cogeneration Station, located in the Wilmington district of Los Angeles Harbor, will be phased out by 2029 in favor of clean, renewable sources of energy. DWP managers had argued such facilities are critical to keeping the lights on for the city’s 4 million residents, especially on hot summer days with the highest electricity demand and during outages elsewhere on the power grid. Times are changing. Photo from LADWP.

A Worsening Climate Emergency

Yet, across the globe daily we experience a fast-moving climate catastrophe, unprecedented Arctic sea ice decline and surface ocean warming, massive amounts of trapped deep-sea and permafrost methane releasing, triggering feedback mechanisms compounding atmospheric warming and playing havoc with a slower-moving jet stream. This worsening climate disruption, with super-storms, mega-droughts, and sea level rise, has implications how all life survives. Those communities living on the margins already face the specter of agricultural failures and mass migrations.

The last decade has been brutal to California, as unrelenting heat waves and worsening drought have led to withering snowpack and drying reservoirs and aquifers. 18.6 million trees died in 2018 alone, and multiple wildfires have razed entire neighborhoods, caused multiple evacuations, and led to the Wildland-Suburban Interface turned into death traps and landslide targets. The costs from property damage and firefighting is into the multi-billions.

Mainstream climate scientists posit that unless we implement rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, agriculture, and urban (transportation and buildings) infrastructure within twelve years, the extremely destabilized climate will be rendered irreversible. Many credible researchers give it less time than that, and we are cooked.

The Climate Action Way Forward: Efficiency and 100% Renewables

Enter the Green New Deal now gaining support nationally and statewide, but still in the ‘what if’ phase.

So, taking Mayor Garcetti’s assertion that a successful Green New Deal must be implemented locally, what next? How to maintain a reliable and affordable flow of electricity without “peaker” natural gas plants, and before the grid has been adapted for intermittent solar and wind?

Advocates from an LA 100% Renewable coalition, such as Food & Water Watch, 350.org, and the Sunrise Movement, with DWP Commissioner Aura Vasquez, gathered together in Los Angeles recently to draw out what the plan might look like. In fact, Food & Water Watch released a report prepared by energy economics consultant Synapse showing how L.A.’s municipal power utility can get off fossil fuels by 2030 with no net costs through investing in energy efficiency, rooftop solar energy, and other decentralized sources.

The transition will require phasing out dirty fossil fuels and nuclear, and replacing them with solar, wind, and geothermal energy. Developing these clean and renewable sources must be paired with energy efficiency and demand response — allowing customers to adjust their use during peak periods — or energy-saving programs that would optimize the grid. Energy storage also is crucial for reliability, which can include affordable long-cycle-life lithium batteries or “pumped water” options at the Hoover Dam. These, along with supporting the development of distributed small-scale locally-generated energy resources, such as rooftop solar and electric vehicles, can save money for Los Angeles ratepayers.

A Clean Energy Revolution?

Los Angeles’ technical and political clean energy transition leads the way for California and the rest of the world toward 100% renewables. Furthermore, we must implement a Green New Deal with attention to equity, environmental justice, and a fair and just transition led by impacted workers and communities, without relying on corporate schemes or market-based mechanisms. As well, this should Include a national jobs guarantee, creating good jobs with collective bargaining and family-sustaining wages.

So, the climate justice movement celebrates Mayor Garcetti’s resolve to move LA to 100 percent renewable, and now the hard work begins to stop the drilling, fracking, pipelines, power plants, and destruction of communities and ecosystems, toward a greener, more equitable tomorrow.

Jack Eidt is the Director of Wild Heritage Planners and publisher of the environmental blog, WilderUtopia.com. He also is a co-founder of the climate change activist organization, SoCal350.org.

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt