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Solar panel rebate program to relaunch in L.A.

July 12, 2011 |  8:47 pm

Solar

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation's largest municipal utility, will hold public workshops this week in a move to relaunch its troubled solar panel incentive program.

In April, the city shut down the program after it was overwhelmed with applications and ran out of money. The DWP had budgeted $30 million for the program, which offers rebates to businesses and residents to install rooftop solar panels to generate electricity. But about $112 million in rebate requests poured in from homeowners keen to cut their power bills and help the environment.

Now the utility proposes to restart the program in late August or September, but with stingier rebates. Officials are also debating whether to compensate homeowners and businesses for generating more electricity than they consume -- a program known as a feed-in tariff.

Feed-in tariffs have successfully spurred development of solar energy in Germany, Spain and other European countries. In California, a limited feed-in tariff is used by state-regulated investor-owned utilities, such as Southern California Edison, but not by city-controlled utilities, such as the DWP.

Under the DWP's new plan, the $30-million annual budget would use future revenue to cover the immediate costs of the rebates for some 1,500 applications. To stretch the funds through 2016, the 2007 rate of $3.24 for every watt installed was cut to $2.20 in 2011. It is expected to be cut further, but the new rate has not been released.

The Los Angeles Business Council has been a strong advocate of rooftop solar, as have the Sierra Club's L.A. Beyond Coal campaign and Open Neighborhoods Mar Vista. They say the solar program would not only provide clean energy but would also stimulate the economy through green jobs in construction, marketing, finance and maintenance. “For every megawatt that you create, it creates about 18 jobs, 11 direct and seven indirect,” said Mary Leslie, council president.

Leslie said that a more ambitious plan laid out by the business council in concert with UCLA  researchers and other partners would create $500 million in local investment, and 900 high-paying jobs each year for the next five years, all with a minimal impact on ratepayers. It would also allow consumers and businesses to take advantage of more federal tax rebates. (Clarification: An earlier version of this post did not specify that Leslie was referring to the LA Business council plan)

“One of the reasons solar incentive is so popular in Los Angeles is because it essentially pays your electric bill,” said Evan Gillespie, a Sierra Club official.

More than 40% of the DWP's electricity is imported from coal-fired power plants outside the state -- a major source of pollution, as well as planet-warming greenhouse gases.

The three-hour workshops will be held Thursday and Friday, twice each day, from 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 5 p.m., at the LADWP headquarters building in downtown Los Angeles. Free parking is available in the Music Center’s underground structure. Attendees must RSVP here.

RELATED:

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

L.A. DWP will reduce residential solar incentives beginning in 2011

-- Ashlie Rodriguez and Margot Roosevelt

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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