Los Angeles, Going Solar

Thanks to a new policy announced by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in January, the city of Los Angeles is set to see its capacity to generate pollution-free solar power dramatically expand in the next four years. I can't think of a better use for all of that unused rooftop space.

by Travis Madsen

When I fly into Los Angeles, one of the first things I notice is the sea of white warehouse rooftops expanding beneath the plane. Covering even a fraction of that area with solar panels would generate a massive amount of carbon-free electricity.

Widespread deployment of solar power technology in Southern California would be doubly useful given the fact that the San Onofre nuclear power plant remains offline due to a serious mechanical failure. It would also help the state of California meet its commitment to source a third of its electricity from renewable sources of energy by the year 2020.

So I was glad to see that the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power announce a program to accelerate the deployment of solar panels in and around the city. Known as a feed-in-tariff, the policy pays homeowners, businesses, or third-party solar installers a rate of 17 cents for every kilowatt hour generated by new solar panels installed within the utility’s service territory. The policy will drive the installation of as much as 150 megawatts of solar power by 2016.

That will be a significant step forward. We at Frontier Group estimated that Los Angeles had installed about 36 megawatts of distributed solar power on rooftops around the city as of 2012. That ranked Los Angeles second out of all cities in California in terms of sheer solar electric power capacity. The new feed-in-tariff policy will roughly quadruple the number of solar panels in Los Angeles, without taking into account the ongoing activities of other programs to promote the expansion of the solar market.

I applaud Los Angeles for taking this step forward. I look forward to the day when I will see hundreds of thousands of solar panels greeting me from the city’s rooftops as my plane glides into LAX.

Utilities across California – and indeed across the country – should take bold steps forward like this one. Solar – and other forms of renewable electricity including wind, biomass, geothermal and ocean power – will be crucial to maintain a reliable supply of electricity while we quickly transition away from coal and other sources of the pollution driving global warming.