Los Angeles has long been something of a solar underperformer, given its size and sunny clime. The group Environment California reported that as of late 2011, despite being nearly three times larger than San Diego, LA had less installed solar capacity (37 megawatts to 36 MW) and fewer installations (4,507 to 4,018) than its neighbor to the south. And a 2011 UCLA study found that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was generating less than one-sixth as much solar power per customer as state leader Southern California Edison.
But the city has been taking action to step up its solar game, revamping a broken rebate program and sticking its toe into the feed-in tariff waters with a 10 MW solar pilot program. Now the LADWP is dramatically expanding that feed-in tariff, approving a 100-megawatt program that’s being called be “the largest urban rooftop solar program of its kind in the nation.”
A feed-in tariff has been the major tool for Germany in becoming the world’s solar leader. A FIT works by guaranteeing solar power producers a profitable price for the electricity their systems produce. In LA, the Department of Water and Power will offer 17-cent-per-kilowatt-hour contracts for projects at least 30-kilowatts in size (the equivalent of about six typical home rootftop systems), up to a total of 20 megawatts of new installed power every six month.
The program could become even larger in the near future; DWP said in in March it will entertain a lant to add another 50 megawatts to the FIT.
In addition to clean-sourced electricity, advocates say the FIT will be a jobs creator for LA.
“The full 150-megawatt program will be a major economic driver for Los Angeles, creating 4,500 jobs and generating a half-billion dollars in economic activity at full scale, while also eliminating 2.25 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2016,” the DWP said.
Still, as admirable as these moves by LA are, the city has a long way to go in making solar a significant part of its power equation. As Southern California clean-energy blogger Chris Clarke noted, “LADWP can deliver around 7,200 megawatts of power to its customers, meaning that a 100-megawatt FiT, when fully subscribed, will account for less than 1.4 percent of the utility’s generating capacity.”