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How The LADWP Creates Power Outages

OK, so it’s not fair they shoulder all the blame for these power outages. Its crews worked night and day to restore power to Angelenos suffocating in last weekend’s epic heatstorm. LADWP’s power outages affected nearly 3% of its customers last weekend. They’re calling it an “unprecedented” heat storm, and as you can see, all-time records have been broken.

OK, so it’s not fair they shoulder all the blame for these power outages. Its crews worked night and day to restore power to Angelenos suffocating in last weekend’s epic heatstorm. LADWP’s power outages affected nearly 3% of its customers last weekend. They’re calling it an “unprecedented” heat storm, and as you can see, all-time records have been broken. LADWP has been supplying updates via Twitter and press releases. But here’s the problem — 54% of Los Angeles residents are renters. Many (most?) rent in either small apartment buildings or bungalow-style houses. Most of these buildings do not have central HVAC. Most of these renters pay their electric bill, even in apartments where the “sub-metering” is some BS estimate. As is the case in most of the gorgeous converted lofts downtown, but at least those buildings have central AC and very thick walls.

Screenshot courtesy of KMIR

So the people who actually own these properties have zero incentive to install solar panels, paint the roof white, install insulation, insulated windows, efficient appliances, etc.. LADWP does have a “Home Energy Improvement Program,” where tenants can apply for an energy efficiency consultation, as long as it’s at least 50% of the building’s occupants, and they provide the owner’s contact information. Good luck getting a slumlord to actually do any of the changes they recommend, though. I’m hoping that more renters will learn about the HEIP program through this article, and apply. LADWP couldn’t supply me with statistics on the program in time to publish this article. If you’ve applied for HEIP, please tell us about your experience in the comments.

Exhaust from air conditioners makes cities hotter, while their manufacture and (improper) disposal significantly contributes to global warming. A building full of window or wall units heats up the city far worse than a building with an exhaust fan on the roof. It’s got to be more than the 1 degree difference this article claims. Yet while Los Angeles was 113, Death Valley was 112 on Friday. I live in a rent-stabilized apartment* and it was like pulling teeth just to get insulation installed in the attic. That’s right, there was none. And there are incentives in place for this! It helped a little, but it still feels as if the walls lack insulation. My landlord may have done that through the LADWP & SoCal Gas partnership in the HEIP program, but we were led to understand it was mainly to conserve gas-powered heat.

The majority of LADWP’s electricity comes from natural gas. Gas which it purchases from SoCal Gas. Heard that name before? That’s right, it is the one responsible for the biggest natural disaster in United States history! The Porter Ranch gas leak has already cost it close to $1 billion (with a B) in lawsuits and repairs. Meanwhile, those 100MW Tesla batteries are costing South Australia merely $30 million in the first few months. Oh wait, I meant SAVING. Why is LADWP still relying on natural gas peaker plants when batteries are so much cheaper?

Los Angeles needs politicians with the courage to set policies in place that will encourage (require?) the LADWP to incentivize landlords to make their buildings more energy efficient and/or solar-powered. We need long-term solutions, not cheap air conditioners that die after a decade of service. Meanwhile, the LADWP pays ~$250 million/year into the city’s general fund. Slush fund is more like it. What exactly does Garcetti spend all that money on? Water bottles for people forced to live on the streets because some developer turned their homes into Airbnb hotels?

Why isn’t energy efficiency a requirement in the building code, instead of a nice perk? Buildings have to either be retrofitted or replaced if they’re not up to current earthquake code. Why not do the same for global warming? Buildings without AC can kill just as many people, as these heatwaves become the new normal. In 1992, the Metropolitan Water District did something similar to help low-income families in Los Angeles replace old toilets with more efficient ones, as reported in the book Natural Capitalism. But I doubt many landlords participated in that.

The LADWP has a Solar Incentive program, and a Feed-in Tariff program, but most LA landlords would never consider an investment that only saves their tenants money. The programs are complicated, and LADWP would do well to hire a UX designer to make these programs easier for the rest of us to understand. In 2015, we reported on how slowly its solar incentives were being carried out. I hope they’ve picked up the pace since then. In a city where most people rent, they’ll never meet their targets if they don’t get the landlords on board.

It’s days like this I can’t be mad at developers tearing down existing rent-stabilized apartments to replace them with luxury pads. At least those buildings will have central AC where the exhaust fan is on the roof. Even if nobody can afford to actually live in them.

On the other hand, the EIA thinks your TV is the real energy hog. But that’s national data, I’d like to see a more comprehensive story, by city and how it changes during the hot summer months. As of July 11th at 5pm, the map still shows power outages, but on the 10th, LADWP reported all outages from the weekend had been repaired. Here’s wishing all those hard-working electricians get to enjoy a long, cool swim and plenty of frosty beverages! You’ve all certainly earned it!

Another one bites the dust. The rubble in the foreground is a strip mall we can all live without, but that apartment building should be full during this housing crisis.

* You can learn more about rent control in Los Angeles here. We’re hoping Prop 10 passes in November, as it’s high time cities had the power to determine the extent of their rent-control, instead of having it limited by the state.

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Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. Which is why she's now based in Barcelona, Spain and happy to live in a city moving rapidly toward complete freedom from cars. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, urban mobility, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders.


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