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.