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LA’s Solar Energy Initiative Delays Are Unnecessary, Threaten Long-Term Growth

The growth of the Los Angeles solar energy sector is being hampered by unnecessary delays in the application and installation stages, potentially interfering with the achievement of its goal to be coal-free by 2025, according to new research commissioned by the Los Angeles Business Council Institute.

These delays and roadblocks need to be addressed quickly for LADWP to achieve its goals and if it wants to see the long-term growth of LA’s local solar program continue, the report from UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity notes. (Coal currently accounts for 42% of LADWP’s energy portfolio.)

Image Credit: California Flag via Flickr CC

The new research also notes that the potential is there for the expansion of the local solar program to 1,500 megawatts (MW) annually — meaning that the program could serve as an economic catalyst, resulting in the creation of thousands of new solar-related jobs as well as bringing in significant investment money.

A recent press release provides more details:

To date, LADWP has authorized 100 megawatts of power under the FiT program, yet only 6.5 megawatts are operational, according to the UCLA/USC study. Another 8.2 megawatts of projects are under contract and awaiting construction, with another 56 megawatts in the contracting stage. The FiT evaluation concludes that LADWP needs to build its staff resources and continue streamlining the application and installation processes to speed the pace of approving local solar projects if it is to reach a self-imposed deadline to be coal-free by 2025.

Already, LADWP has reduced project wait times from an average of 425 days for the initial projects down to an average of 182 days more recently, due in large part to a new online application and permitting system that has helped streamline the process. Also, certain insurance requirements have been removed to reduce barriers for solar developers, and changes to standard contracts create more certainty for applicants and help streamline financing options. But more needs to be done, according to the UCLA/USC findings.

Project wait times can see a sustained decline only with a significant increase in staffing at LADWP to review applications and do the technical work needed to greenlight projects, according to the findings. In 2013, LADWP requested 30 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff from the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, yet only three FTEs are dedicated to the FiT right now. To jumpstart the program, the researchers recommend building up staff capacity and taking a new approach to the program’s waiting list by prioritizing projects by operational viability and economic benefits rather than simple chronology.

“LADWP needs to staff up in order to fulfill the promise of the FiT program and meet the high priority placed on the program by Mayor Garcetti, the City Council and the Board of DWP Commissioners,” stated the evaluation’s co-researcher JR De Shazo, Director at UCLA’s Luskin Center. “Los Angeles has the right amount of sun, available rooftops, trained workers and financing options. Adequate staffing at LADWP is the missing piece of the puzzle, and it needs to be put in place if Los Angeles is going to go reach its solar potential.”

Given the great potential there, one presumes that the appropriate steps will be taken to streamline the process and get things going at a faster pace. But governmental bureaucracy (and often incompetence) can be a funny thing, can it not? Here’s to hoping.

Image Credit: California Flag via Flickr CC

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James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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