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Wasting Energy on Words

August 16, 2004

Los Angeles city bureaucrats have discovered a new alchemy akin to turning straw into gold. They want to boost their use of renewable energy sources with words instead of actions -- by redefining the hydroelectric power they get from Hoover Dam as green energy. Never mind that state law specifically excludes large hydroelectric power projects from its definition of renewable energy.

State regulations require private utilities, such as Southern California Edison, to generate at least 20% of their electricity from renewable sources, primarily solar, wind and geothermal power, by 2010. Hydroelectric power doesn't count because there is little likelihood that any major new hydro projects will be built. Public utilities, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, successfully fought to keep the requirement on renewable energy from applying to them, although they ought to be in the vanguard of the green energy movement.

With more enlightened politicians -- including Mayor James K. Hahn -- putting the pressure on, the Los Angeles department set a goal of 20% renewable energy by 2017. The current level is about 3%, while private utilities already average 12%. Half the city's power comes from polluting coal-fired generators, 25% from natural gas, 12% nuclear and 10% hydro.

Someone decided that if the Hoover Dam power was counted, the DWP would instantly get itself halfway or more toward the 20% goal. The department could simply redefine its way out of taking concrete steps toward sound energy policy. A motion to do that suddenly appeared before the City Council's Energy Committee on Tuesday and, remarkably, was approved. It seemed to make no difference that the power has been flowing from Hoover for nearly 70 years and that there will be no new big hydro dams built. The full council should see that this deceptive idea gets no further and that the department gets serious about weaning itself from dirty, coal-fired power.

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