L.A. County pushed as high-payoff place to invest Calif. clean energy funds -- report

Investing in clean energy in Los Angeles County would create thousands of jobs and significantly shrink carbon emissions while helping the region adapt to climate change impacts, a report released today said.

Adding solar panels to 5 percent of roofs in the sprawling region would spawn 28,000 employment opportunities, according to the analysis from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the University of California, Los Angeles' Luskin Center. That same amount of photovoltaics would cut carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 1.25 million tons, the equivalent of taking more than 250,000 cars off the road each year.

Investments in renewable power and energy efficiency are necessary to help Los Angeles as temperatures rise, say those involved with the report. Moreover, with its propensity for innovation, the area can serve as an example for the rest of the state and the nation, said Jorge Madrid, EDF's coordinator for partnership and alliances.

"We know what climate change is going to look like in the L.A. region. We have some really fantastic data around the communities who are sort of most at risk," Madrid said. "Our big goal here is to be able to tell the narrative of the threat from climate change, and really be able to pivot to the opportunity that's going to be there in deploying more low-carbon sources and creating more resilient communities."

EDF -- which hired the UCLA Luskin Center to analyze clean energy investment potential in Los Angeles County -- said it hopes members of the state Legislature and other leaders will use information in the report as they move forward on some of California's green policies.


The analysis arrives as the state will decide how to invest proceeds from auctions of pollution permits in its fledgling carbon cap-and-trade program. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) this year borrowed $500 million from auction income to balance the state budget but pledged that it would be repaid with interest.

California will have to decide how to spend the income. Under A.B. 32, which launched the carbon market program, the money must be spent on efforts that further the goals of the state's multi-pronged climate law. Legislation passed last year additionally requires California to invest a fourth of the proceeds in ways that benefit disadvantaged communities.

In addition, there is money coming from the state's Proposition 39, a 2012 ballot measure that changed the tax code for multi-state businesses. It directed half of the new revenue for five years to energy efficiency and clean power projects that create jobs. The bulk of the estimated $2.5 billion will go into schools.

EDF additionally is hoping to drive future clean energy investment in the Los Angeles region, said group spokesman Joaquin McPeek.

Need to adapt to higher temperatures

Los Angeles was chosen for the analysis in part because there are robust data on the effects of climate change in the region, Madrid said, adding that "some of the data doesn't exist for other regions."

The EDF report presents the investments as necessary adaption in a place where temperatures will climb because of climate change. Temperatures in the Los Angeles region will rise an average of 4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the middle of this century, it says. There will be variations between cities, however, with coastal areas feeling less impact.

UCLA's study predicts a likely tripling in the number of extremely hot days in the downtown area, and four times the number in the valleys and at high elevations.

"Adapting to a changing climate and building resiliency will be inevitable in the Los Angeles region," the report says. Expanding renewables and energy efficiency will be "a key pathway to building community resilience to extreme weather, energy and economic challenges," it adds.

Adding renewables will allow residents and businesses to achieve "greater energy independence, protect communities from price spikes and ensure more reliable power during heat waves and other disruptions, while creating new jobs in the process," the report says.

Energy efficiency will help residents, businesses and local governments save money and use less electricity, while lowering carbon emissions and reducing demand on the grid when extreme weather occurs, the report says.

"Changes in energy conservation and generation began decades ago in California, but transformation will involve a sustained effort with benefits for action realized now," the report says. "There are state and local funding vehicles to support investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects such as rooftop solar installations."

Los Angeles has about 300 days of sunshine annually, making it ideal for solar power, Madrid said. In addition, there often are large rooftops on apartments and industrial buildings in parts of the county where there are lower-income residents who could benefit from clean energy, he said.

Madrid concedes that changes will be needed to get solar on some of those buildings, given that apartment residents aren't likely to fund panels without incentives. One he advocates is "on-bill payment," where the cost of a renewable power or energy efficiency project is attached to the electricity meter. It then is paid back by subsequent residents of the location.

"There is not a silver bullet that's going to get us there," Madrid said. "We need a suite of policies."

But the politics potentially are ripe for investments in Los Angeles, he said. New Mayor Eric Garcetti made development of green energy part of his platform when he campaigned. Garcetti now is on President Obama's Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, along with Gov. Brown, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

Law dictates cap-and-trade money spending

The EDF report analyzes the benefits of clean energy spending. It breaks the county down into regions and details how dollars would boost each place. It provides the number of single-family homes and commercial buildings, and those built before 1978. Older buildings have the greatest potential for energy efficiency upgrades, it says. For each location, it lists the parcels with the largest solar potential. The document also outlines local incentives already in place and proposes others that could be added.

In the city of Los Angeles, 89 percent of all buildings were erected prior to 1978, the report says. The average square footage of those buildings is 3,749 square feet. For government and nonprofit buildings, the average size of the older ones is 10,402 square feet.

The three areas with the biggest opportunities are East Los Angeles, downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, a swath of cities located northwest of the downtown area.

There is likely to be great competition for the cap-and-trade monies, but there also are guidelines for where it must go, said Ethan Elkind, a climate research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Law.

"L.A. is a good option, but [cap-and-trade] auction money must first go to the biggest [greenhouse gas] bang for the buck and also take into [account] equity/low income areas," Elkind said in an email.

A study two years ago from UCLA Luskin Center and the University of Southern California's Program for Environmental and Regional Equity found that "areas in Los Angeles with the greatest potential for rooftop solar power -- and thus the greatest capacity to support solar-related jobs -- include many areas suffering from high unemployment and economic need."

That analysis also found that "while California has set a goal of generating 33 percent of its energy from renewable energy by 2020, our region lacks sound policies to meet these goals and employ ready green-economy workers."

There is less room to influence where Proposition 39 monies go. The largest part will be delivered in direct grants to kindergarten through 12th-grade districts. It will be allocated based on numbers of students, though all districts will receive at least $15,000 annually. Schools then will compete for the money, proposing projects that will save the most energy.

There also is money for community college districts, for low- and no-interest loans, and for energy efficiency and clean energy job training.

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