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Hahn Halts Coal Plant Investment

Environmentalists hail the decision by the L.A. mayor to redirect up to $400 million investment toward increasing renewable power.

August 25, 2004|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn on Tuesday ordered a halt to the city's involvement in a proposed coal-fired electricity plant in Utah, directing that the money instead go toward increasing renewable power.

Environmentalist groups hailed Hahn's decision to cancel the city's proposed investment of up to $400 million in an Intermountain Power Agency coal plant.

"This is an historic decision, which signals a profound shift by the city, away from high-polluting coal and exported jobs, in favor of greater reliance on homegrown renewables and energy efficiency," V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies in Sacramento, said in a statement.

In a letter Tuesday, Hahn directed the Department of Water and Power to "end any negotiations, planning, and/or commitment of staff resources" toward the proposed $2.1-billion power plant. That Hahn is in the midst of a tough reelection campaign was cited by some environmentalists as a possible factor in his decision, but they said it does not diminish the importance of his action.

"This is one of the most significant things the mayor has done for the environment," said Rhonda Mills of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

Los Angeles was negotiating to receive 15% to 20% of the power from the plant when it begins operations in 2009. Currently, the city receives 44% of the electricity generated by two other coal plants operated by Intermountain Power in Utah.

The agency is financed by 37 cities and utilities.

More than half of the electricity that the DWP provides to the city's 3.8 million residents comes from coal-fired plants.

The cost of coal has been 4 cents or less per kilowatt in recent months, or 10 times less expensive than the DWP's current investment in solar power.

Under pressure from environmentalists, however, Hahn and other city officials recently proposed that the amount of electricity generated by the DWP from solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources increase from about 3% today to 20% by 2017.

Citing that goal and the city's decision to retrofit three gas-fired power plants in the Los Angeles Basin, Hahn said the new coal plant would be surplus power and is not an attractive investment.

The DWP currently generates 20% more electricity than its average demand requires.

Hahn said the money that was to be spent on the third coal plant should instead go toward expanding the DWP's renewable portfolio.

"It continues to be my vision that the Department of Water and Power remain the world leader in developing and generating clean, cost-effective electrical power," Hahn said.

City officials have been jostling for attention on the issue.

In response to Hahn's announcement, Councilman Tony Cardenas issued a tersely worded statement: "I'm glad to see my work in moving DWP towards cleaner energy is causing other city leaders to embrace the same goal."

Henry Martinez, DWP's acting general manager, said the department will look for other power sources. "It's just one more challenge in keeping the department looking at different options," Martinez said. "It doesn't hamper us at all."

The decision was also hailed by environmentalists who have complained that coal-fired plants have fouled the air in southern Utah and added to air pollution in some of that state's national parks.

But construction on the third coal plant will probably proceed, with other cities that had been on a waiting list now stepping in to take up the demand, said Reed Searle, general manager of the Intermountain Power Agency.

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Times staff writer Marc Lif-sher contributed to this report.

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