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Mayor backs solar power plan

DWP workers would install rooftop panels on L.A. buildings. Key backer is group tied to the employees' union.

October 15, 2008|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and three City Council members have thrown their support behind a proposal to install enough rooftop solar panels on buildings across the city to power 100,000 residential customers of the Department of Water and Power by 2013.

The proposal, which would appear on the March 3 ballot, was developed by Working Californians, a pro-labor advocacy group with strong ties to the union that represents DWP workers.

Working Californians is led by two high-level officials with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Under the plan, the solar panels would be installed by DWP employees and remain the property of the city's electrical utility once they were up and running.

The group also contends that the solar strategy will create jobs and boost the Los Angeles economy, according to position papers prepared by Working Californians.

Council members Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Jan Perry plan to call for the ballot measure today. All three met Tuesday with Brian D'Arcy, business manager of IBEW Local 18, and Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley to review the proposal, which must be placed on the ballot by Nov. 5.

"We're asking the people to embrace what we're trying to do, which is deliver reliable and clean power," Greuel said.

The solar initiative would be voluntary, applying primarily to commercial, industrial and government buildings. Greuel said the proposal would keep the DWP from having to purchase more expensive power from other sources.

Still, one DWP critic warned that the plan would lead to higher electrical bills. "There's no question they're going to pass this through to the ratepayers," said Jack Humphreville, a neighborhood activist who has pressed the utility to create a ratepayer advocate.

The DWP has already agreed to increase its customers' electrical bills by nearly 24% between 2006 and 2010.

None of the participants in Tuesday's meeting could provide a price tag for the initiative. Sutley, who handles environmental issues for the mayor, said DWP officials have reassured her that the initiative wouldn't place any additional burden on ratepayers.

The solar initiative is being crafted as Villaraigosa works to fulfill his promise to ensure that 20% of the DWP's energy comes from renewable sources, such as wind and geothermal power, by 2010. And it is the latest big-ticket proposal unveiled by the mayor as he fires up his reelection campaign.

The mayor announced a $5-billion plan for building more housing last month. Last week, he announced his plan for revitalizing South Los Angeles.

Some environmentalists have voiced fears in recent days that the measure is being rushed to the ballot. Sutley and DWP General Manager H. David Nahai met with solar power advocates Friday, telling them that the ballot measure would be unveiled by Villaraigosa at a Monday news conference.

DWP board President Nick Patsaouras, a mayoral appointee, told The Times on Saturday he was not aware a ballot measure was being planned. Monday's event was canceled because of the San Fernando Valley wildfires.

Sutley disagreed with the notion that the proposal is moving too quickly. "It's something we've been talking about for years," she said.

Clean air advocates have also been wary because the proposal is being heavily promoted by D'Arcy, whose union represents at least 8,000 DWP workers. Three years ago, D'Arcy criticized a proposal for adding 80 megawatts of solar power at the DWP, saying it would "bankrupt" the utility.

In 2005, Global Green estimated that the addition of 80 megawatts of solar power would cost the DWP $200 million. The new proposal calls for five times as much solar power.

"I'm not saying we don't want a proposal that's aggressive, but it's an interesting change of tune," said Mary Luevano, who handles legislative matters for the environmental group Global Green.

D'Arcy, who is the co-chairman of Working Californians, had no comment. "I don't want to answer questions about it until we get through the procedural stuff," he said.

D'Arcy has appeared in the council chamber twice in the past week, talking up a voter opinion poll that shows that more than two-thirds of voters would favor a solar ballot measure. IBEW Local 18 has also hired a City Hall lobbyist to promote the measure.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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