LA Seeing The Light? Big Jump In Rooftop Solar

Los Angeles is picking up the pace on distributed solar power installation, with a record 22 megawatts of capacity going atop homes and businesses in the recently concluded 2011-12 fiscal year, according to the city’s municipal utility.

True, 22 megawatts of capacity in a gigantic city that, on a hot summer day, can demand more than 6,100 MW of power is pretty puny. But the rate of change – annual installations totaled 5 MW two years ago and 9 MW a year ago – is pretty impressive.

los angeles solar power

image via Shutterstock

“If the pace we are seeing today continues, by this fall, we will exceed 100 MW of net metered solar capacity that is either built or in the queue to be built,” Aram Benyamin, senior assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s power system, said in a statement.

Los Angeles has long been something of a solar underperformer, given its size and sunny clime. The group Environment California reported last year that as of August 2011, despite being nearly three times larger than San Diego, LA had less installed solar capacity (37 MW to 36 MW) and fewer installations (4,507 to 4,018) than its neighbor to the south. And a UCLA study last year found that the LADWP generates less than one-sixth as much solar power per customer as state leader Southern California Edison, and has one of the weakest solar track records among major California utilities.

Under the state’s “Million Solar Roofs” legislation, LADWP must spend $313 million to incentivize the installation of 280 megawatts of solar by 2016. But making that happen smoothly has been a challenge for the utility.

The LADWP ran into big trouble in early 2011 when it didn’t have enough money budgeted to pay for the flood of rebate applications it was receiving. The utility also cited problems with keeping pace on inspections and permitting, so it to shut down the program from April through August 2011, and restarted it with revisions.

The department said the revised incentives (you can see them here on the LADWP site) it put in place after the shutdown were more consistent with existing solar markets and with state alternative energy programs like the California Solar Initiative. At the same time, it doubled the total incentives budget for three years, and insisted that its customers could still get rebates above the minimum mandated by the state by assigning renewable energy credits earned through the use of solar photovoltaics to the LADWP in return for an additional 40 cents per watt of installed capacity.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.