City power department could be forced to make nation’s sharpest carbon emissions cut

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The power department in Los Angeles could be required to implement the country’s most aggressive carbon emissions reduction program.

A Los Angeles city councilman on Friday introduced a measure calling on the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) by 2030 to cut its carbon emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels, a move that the Sierra Club said would be the first of its kind in the nation for any utility.

The language on the LADWP plan was part of a larger motion that would have the city — including Los Angeles International Airport and the Port of Los Angeles — shrink greenhouse gas pollution 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

“The city is a worldwide leader,” said Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz in his motion. “Adoption of an aggressive policy addressing climate change could significantly and positively shift the world’s current status on climate policy and deliver tangible improvements to the lives of Angelenos.”

The benchmark for the city is the same as California’s statewide mandate for that year and is similar to what some other cities have adopted. The number for LADWP, the largest municipal utility in the country, would be the most aggressive to date for a power company, said Evan Gillespie, Western region deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

“It really locks in a transition from coal to truly clean energy,” Gillespie said. “It provides a road map for other cities and utilities who may be equally dependent on coal, who may think, ‘We don’t think we can get there.'”

“If L.A. is able to do this, it provides a very clear road map for where the rest of the utility industry needs to head over the next 15 years,” Gillespie added.

The motion now goes to city committees and could take several weeks to come back to the full council for a vote.

Cutting coal power

LADWP spokeswoman Carol Tucker said in an email that “we recently received the motion and we are carefully reviewing it.”

“LADWP is proud of the tremendous progress we have made and will continue to make in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transforming our power supply,” Tucker added. “We are aggressively moving to transition out of coal power, while expanding renewable energy and energy efficiency will increase to at least 10 percent by 2020.”

In 2009, about 44 percent of the power LADWP delivered came from coal-fired plants located out of state. The utility has pledged to divest its 21.2 percent interest in the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Arizona by next year and has contracted with a natural gas-fired plant in Nevada to replace part of it. The Los Angeles utility said it will stop taking coal power from the Intermountain Power Plant in Delta, Utah, by 2025.

The power department is on track to deliver one-quarter of its power from renewable sources by 2016 and one-third by 2020, Tucker said.

“Greenhouse gas emissions have dropped to 22 percent below LADWP’s 1990 level,” she said. “We expect even more dramatic GHG emissions reductions as plans to eliminate coal power from Navajo and Intermountain Power Plants are realized.”

When LADWP is fully divested from coal, Gillespie said, it will be three-fourths of the way toward meeting the goal for 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Sending emissions out of state?

Some, however, have questioned whether overall greenhouse gas emissions are shrinking as LADWP and some other Golden State power companies divest from their coal generation.

Danny Cullenward, an economist with the University of California, Berkeley’s Energy and Climate Institute, said this spring that California utilities could simply be transferring the carbon pollution out of state (ClimateWire, April 25).

In addition to LADWP, he noted that the California Department of Water Resources ended its contract with the Reid Gardner coal-fired plant in Nevada in July 2013. But its owner, Nevada Power Co., he said, plans to continue operating the facility until roughly 2017.

Southern California Edison sold its interest in the Four Corners coal-fired power plant to Arizona Public Service Co. in December 2013, he said.

Those moves, along with LADWP’s contracting to replace the Navajo plant coal energy with natural gas-generated electricity, mean that a total of 30 million to 60 million tons of CO2 has leaked or currently is leaking out of California, Cullenward said. He calculated the number using the difference between the coal-fired power and the replacement power, the average output of the coal plants and the coal plants’ retirement dates.

Gillespie with the Sierra Club said, however, that across the West in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon, coal plants are planning to shut down.

“There just isn’t the market for that coal that there once was,” Gillespie said.

Feed-in tariff program underway

Among the green power LADWP is adding is locally based energy from a feed-in tariff program. It contracts for purchases of energy from property owners that add renewable power to buildings and allows participation by any technology accepted under California’s green power mandate.

The pilot program has a goal of 150 MW installed by 2016. The first phase was 40 percent oversubscribed, and the second was also “fully oversubscribed,” Mary Leslie, president of Los Angeles Business Council, has said (ClimateWire, Feb. 7).

A third phase was rolled out in March. There is a plan for an additional 20 MW every six months. A report in March said that there were 40 MW active projects, while 92 MW were on a waiting list.

There are issues with permitting that force the program to go slowly, Gillespie said.

“Has the rollout been flawless? No,” Gillespie said, referring to LADWP’s move into all renewables. He added, however, that it’s been successful.

Leslie on Friday said that Koretz’s motion “is an opportunity to scale up the city’s programs that focus on bringing more clean energy online, which will create more local jobs right here in Los Angeles.”