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Monday, January 19, 2009

David Freeman on Measure B

 Editor's Note: Last Monday we published a commentary by Nick Patsaouras, former Chairman of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Board of Commissioners stating his opposition to controversial city ballot measure Measure B. Today we present an opposing view from the former General Manager of the DWP, David Freeman.

As a very young man I witnessed how a renewable energy project – building dams to harness the hydro power of the Tennessee River – provided a powerful economic stimulus that created thousands of what we now call green collar jobs. The Tennessee Valley Authority which I chaired under President Carter transformed the most poverty-stricken part of America into a thriving middle class region.

Years later, as the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the largest and dirtiest public utility in the nation, I got rid of two coal fired power plants while avoiding rate increases. It is my considered judgment that LA’s Solar Initiative, Measure B, is the lowest cost option available for action now to combat global warming and create much needed green collar jobs.

The Coalition for Clean Air, Coalition for Solar and Clean Energy, Los Angeles Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, and the American Lung Association of California have formed a coalition to support Mayor Villaraigosa’s plan to install 400 megawatts of solar power on commercial rooftops here in LA - more than any other city in the nation. That plan, Measure B, has been put before LADWP customers and Los Angeles voters for public discussion, debate and a decision on the March 3 ballot.

Beyond cleaning up our air quality, Measure B will help stimulate our economy by creating thousands of good-paying, green collar jobs people can raise a family on. It includes a preference for solar manufacturers based here in Los Angeles. This means the LADWP, by switching to solar, invests directly back into the City of LA. It also means solar manufacturers, who are building facilities and creating tens of thousands of jobs across the country, will have a significant incentive to locate in Los Angeles and bring those new jobs here.

Faced with a global warming crisis that threatens life as we know it, the opponents say this measure will cost too much. They are wrong. They used numbers based on what the small solar companies are charging to put panels on individual homes – about $9 a watt.

Today the going wholesale price is at or below $3 a watt and going down for the thin film product the LADWP will be using in its solar panels. The best estimate of LADWP installed price is $3.75 watt. When Measure B is implemented, the Department will be buying large quantities of modules and installing them on large commercial flat rooftops. It’s a basic rule of economics: prices come tumbling down when big purchasers leverage their power in the marketplace.

Solar panels, over their 25-year life, will be cheaper than the natural gas power it will replace when it is owned by its utility as LADWP proposes. After the initial installation of solar panels, it is much like a hydroelectric dam and if the city owns the equipment, it gets steadily lower in cost each year as the original investment is depreciated. Solar panels just sit there making clean power and only the inverters that convert it to usable electricity require replacement over time.

Measure B is a giant step forward in the Mayors’ promise of a truly green Los Angeles.

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Anonymous Anonymous said:


Let me repeat that.


January 19, 2009 5:25 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

I'm confused. As I heard Trujillo explain it, this matter is on the ballot because of the failure of DWP to move us forward on solar. DWP tried and failed, he said, so we have to take a plan straight to the voters.

But Freeman was DWP's general manager, and I'm guessing, part of the failure.

January 19, 2009 10:09 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Does anyone have any accurate numbers on the costs per watt? I am not buying $3.75 per watt but the argument that investing in solar panels will drive down the cost is persuasive.

Also, can anyone quote the section of Measure B that creates the incentive for solar panel manufacturers to locate in Los Angeles? The opponents say the Mayor visited a solar panel plant in China. Would the panels be cheaper from China?

Finally, Freeman does not address the failure of Measure B to limit the power of the City Council to change, amend, or completely replace the solar plan. One of the fundamental concepts of our City government is that the proprietary departments (Airports, Harbor, and Water and Power) are insulated from political cronyism by being mostly controlled by the DWP Board of Commissioners. Right now, Council has only oversight powers for just a limited number of big issues like rate setting.

This Measure looks like a dramatic shift in power from the independence of the DWP Board to the City Council. If this passes, direct political interference in DWP operations by the LA City Council (without any requirement of DWP Board of Commissioners review) could become routine. This I see as the most dangerous element of this plan.

Where is Erwin Chemerinsky, former head of the Elected Charter Reform Commission? What is his take on this unprecedented shift of more power to the Los Angeles City Council?

January 19, 2009 11:59 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

What's with the dopey looking hat?

January 19, 2009 8:28 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

It's the 20th of January and not a sliver of Zuma Dogg on Night Line.

Bumped for another year!

January 19, 2009 8:54 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

That plan, Measure B, has been put before LADWP customers and Los Angeles voters for public discussion, debate and a decision

When was this put up for public discussion? DWP hasn't even done its report to the City Council yet. In fact, they hired a consulting company. Maybe, just maybe, somebody will see this report before the election, but how can anybody make an informed decision? More important, how could the City Council make an informed decision to put this on the ballot. Guess all they needed to know was Local 18 would be there to support them in their re-election campaigns. WTH is Freeman talking about?

January 20, 2009 2:24 PM  

Blogger Electrical Expert said:

As someone that has read Freeman's book and is following all things "Green" in the country I find the skepticism regarding this proposal interesting.

The price of Solar is at an all-time low across the globe, and it appears that if more customers join the grid with Solar the price will come down even further.

Freeman is very correct in that regard.

Also other than a few sporadic places across the US -- there is no Solar capitol yet -- with the 1.2 gigawatts the City of LA is attempting we will be the Solar Capitol of the world. A title we should want as oppose to "Traffic Capitol" and "Smog Capitol" which are no longer true, but are stuck in the nation's collect thought on our City.

January 21, 2009 2:00 AM  

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