Solar LA aims to become the United States’ largest solar power project

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In 2007 Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa publicized his Green LA initiative. His goal for the city was to reduce its carbon emissions by 35% below 1990 levels by 2030 – it was the largest reduction target of any major US city. The plan rested on increasing the Department of Water and Power’s renewable energy portfolio by 35% by 2020. One year later, Mayor Villaraigosa, City Council President Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Jan Perry and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) have announced Solar LA, the country’s largest solar power plan and claimed to be the world’s largest solar project ever undertaken by one city. Not only does Solar LA plan to install 1.3GW of solar power for Los Angeles, but it also hopes to refuel the green economy with the creation of jobs.

“It is time that we use our most abundant natural resource to create the electricity and the jobs we need for our future,” Mayor Villaraigosa said. “Today, we are turning up the heat and taking the next step to become a shining example of green growth worldwide.”

Solar LA will create a 1.3GW solar network for residential, commercial and municipally owned solar systems in order to replace the high use of fossil fuels during peak energy demand. The intention then is to give LA clean, renewable energy, while also potentially creating 200 to 400 new jobs with every 10MW of solar power. The research and development, manufacturing, installation, maintenance and repair industries would most benefit from the project with more work.

“Los Angeles is the sunshine capital, making it one of the best solar resources in the nation, if not the world. It makes sense that our city would take the lead in delivering innovative, environmentally-friendly technology and make job development and training in the field of solar energy a top priority,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry, Chair of the City Council’s Energy and Environment Committee.

Solar LA has three key components: programs to boost residential and commercial customer solar systems, LADWP-owned solar projects in LA and large-scale solar projects owned by LADWP outside the LA basin.

The residential program will rely on the $313 million in California State funds that were set aside for solar projects. LADWP will increase its rebate programs to foster DWP ratepayers to install solar panels on their roofs. For low-income communities, a limited number of DWP customers will be provided with free rooftop systems. LADWP also plans to offer its residential customers the same low-interest loans for solar system installations that it gives to its commercial customers. The loans though will be extended to 10 years with interest rates between 5-6% and have an inventive financing model that can potentially see customers repaying the loan through property taxes. The bottom line becomes entails Solar LA demanding 130MW of solar systems to be installed in residential communities by 2020.

Along with residential incentives is a possible solution to the long-standing prohibition of non-LADWP companies selling electricity to other customers on the local grid. To solve this, a feed-in-tariff has been proposed which would allow a solar developer in Los Angeles to sell power directly to LAWDP via a long-term contract between the two parties. Not only would the third party seller be able to receive tax incentives ranging between 30 to 60% of the installation costs, but also after five to eight years, they could choose to sell the solar systems to LADWP. The feed-in-tariff’s ultimate goal would be to install 150MW by 2016.

In addition to the above mentioned proposals, the Los Angeles Green Energy and Good Jobs for Los Angeles Initiative will require LADWP to install 400MW by 2014 with systems located on rooftops, reservoirs and parking lots on city owned property. The total MW output (400) would equal more than is currently being produced in the whole state.

Finally, with some of the best solar resources being so close to the Southern California city, such as the Mojave Desert, large-scale solar projects producing 500MW of utility-scale power are to be developed under an agreement with third-party solar developers. The projects would feed into LADWP’s two transmission stations in the area with the company having the option to purchase the plants after around eight years.

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