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L.A.'s solar subsidies: Should the City Council come to the rescue?

West LA solar
Los Angeles homeowners and businesses have applied for $70 million in rebates from the city utility this year to build rooftop solar panels. That should be good news for green jobs and for the small businesses that have grown up to install solar panels in one of the nation's sunniest cities.

And it should be good news for the planet, because the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation's largest municipal utility, imports a sizeable chunk of its electricity from coal-fired power plants outside the state -- energy that distributed solar generation could partly replace.

Coal is the dirtiest energy source in terms of health-damaging soot chemicals, and also contributes massive amounts of carbon dioxide (C02), which traps heat in the atmosphere and has begun to change Earth's climate.

But the DWP only budgeted $30 million for rooftop solar this year and is now threatening to slash the subsidy to businesses and residents. The move has sparked an uproar from solar installers, along with residents and businesses who hope to lower their electricity bills with photovoltaic panels.

Earlier this month, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's appointees on the DWP commission voted to scale back the size of the solar rebate offered by the utility on the grounds that the program was running out of money. But on Friday, the City Council voted to review the plan over the next three weeks.

John Dennis, a senior DWP power system manager, said other utilities, both public and private, face the same problem and have made moves to slow down or suspend their rebate programs. "We still offer the best, or one of the best, incentive programs here in the state of California, even with these proposed reductions," he told the council.

Councilman Paul Koretz agreed that the DWP's solar program, which currently has 1,500 applications, has been a "victim of its own success." But he said he had received dozens of calls from residents, business owners and environmentalists who warned that the reductions, which would take effect Jan. 1, are too much too soon.

"From everything we've been hearing from the environmental community, this would pretty much gut the program," said Koretz, who represents a district that takes in much of the west side of L.A.

Two installers, Ken Button, president of Verengo Solar Plus, and Ethan Sprague, director of government affairs for Sunrun Inc. said that the DWP proposal would cut rebates for homeowners by 32%, making residential solar much less affordable. "In some circumstances, such as the popular lease option, down payments will balloon by 400%," they wrote in a letter to The Times. "Residential solar was just starting to heat up in LADWP, power is expensive enough already, and green jobs are critical to the local economy."  

The proposal to cut subsidies for rooftop solar comes at a time when the utility is planning large-scale renewable energy plants, transporting electricity on transmission lines from outside the city. Activists have protested against "Big Solar," saying that industrial power plants are ultimately more expensive than rooftop panels, as well as disruptive to endangered wildlife such as desert tortoises. However, planners say that centralized large-scale solar, rather than distributed rooftop units, make the electricity distribution easier to manage.

-- Margot Roosevelt, with David Zahniser at City Hall

RELATED: LADWP to reduce solar incentives in 2011

                San Bernardino Solar Installation Approved

                Brightsource's Ivanpah solar plant breaks ground

Photo: Daniel Morabito, left, and Sal Sanchez of SolarCity install solar panels last fall at a home in West Los Angeles. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times

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Yes they should! Solar can really keep LA on the map and change our reputation as a city.

LADWP should renew incentives for rooftop solar, and the Federal government should redirect the massive grants and loan guarantees they provide for wasteful solar projects in the middle of the desert toward local rooftop incentive programs such as LA's. Why should we use taxpayer dollars to support massive solar facilities that destroy pristine public land, when we can give the money back to the taxpayer to invest in their own home or business in the form of rooftop solar?

Why doesn't the DWP honor the LA Business Council/UCLA Luskin Center's study from this summer, which showed that the proven solution of feed in tariffs is the best way to get clean power in this region, and would save ALL ratepayers money - even compared to the status quo?

Rebates are great, and we absolutely need to keep them, but net metering is not a helpful way to account for the power. For one thing, net metered power does not count towards our RPS, which means that even if the whole state were rooftop-paneled and 65% of our power was coming from that solar power, the RPS would still say that it needed 33% of the remaining 35% to be Big Solar and Big Wind.

Since Sun Run lobbied against PACE loans, which would have democratized the grid and allowed us to easily transfer our property, I say kick SunRun out of the rebate pool. They are a totally useless middleman, and by preventing us from getting PACE loans because their product is so shoddy it can't stand the competition, they are enemies of clean energy and democracy.

The system is gamed against us in so many ways, even though WE own this utility. That is just complete baloney about utilities managing the power more easily if it's monopolized. Embarrassing.

If you contact the City Council about extending the rebates, please make the following two additional points:

1. We need generous feed in tariffs not cheapskate ones and we need PACE style loans NOW; and

2. For everyone stuck with net metering, we need to establish a generous tariff for excess power they produce and do not use, and we need to count ALL the power towards the RPS.

This will guarantee us all the lowest cost, most stable, cleanest and fairest energy grid possible.

Overall, implementing the solar roof goals of the state will end up saving taxpayer money and making more money (jobs) for the state. Red herrings aside, the problem with homeowner roof projects in Los Angeles is the relatively low percentage of homeownership. And the landlord won't save any money at all if the tenants pay the electric. We would be further along if the state had developed a program for that problem.

green technology is such a scam.

The structure of DWP's Jan 1st rebate cuts will make clean, renewable energy from the Sun affordable only to the wealthiest homeowners and large commercial businesses. City Council should review the program to ensure broadest participation in energy savings through the solar rebate program.

As it stands, the DWP's residential solar rebate program is undersubscribed, with DWP spending just 30% of rebate funds to date on residential installations.

Commercial businesses in LA are installing solar much faster than DWP expected, and DWP staff are responding by transferring funds out of the residential rebate budget to keep up.

The Solar Incentive Program guideline specifies a 50/50 split between commercial and residential installations. However, DWP has spent 70% of solar rebate funds to date on commercial installations. The residential under-subscription is expected to worsen under DWP's 32% cut to the residential rebate relative to a 14% cut to the commercial rebate.

As a requirement of California's "Million Solar Roofs" program the DWP solar rebate program helps make clean energy affordable to Los Angeles residents and businesses.

Rather than cutting the residential solar rebate by over 30%, DWP should review the program to ensure that its guidelines are being met and to allow more ratepayers are able to participate and receive benefits from the solar rebate.

To this end, the City Council should authorize DWP to implement a Community Solar program with "virtual net metering" that enables ALL ratepayers to participate by buying a share of a large system in the community and reducing their bills with net metering credits.

Los Angeles-based Open Neighborhoods helps bring affordable solar to Los Angeles area neighborhoods by organizing group buying programs that drive down the pre-incentive cost of solar by up to 30% with community-wide installations for residents, businesses, churches and non-profit organizations.

To participate and take full advantage of available rebates, local residents and businesss can sign up to request a free solar assessment of their roof before the Dec 3rd program end date at

LA residents and businesses can also send letters to City Council in support of clean energy from the Sun:

If I want solar panels I will save and pay for them. I wouldn't think twice in asking for a hand out to pay to reduce my bills. When will this hand out stop. Why are we in bankruptsy??? Enough using taxpayers money for personal use. Wake up people...nothing is free.


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