When it comes to rolling out solar across the rooftops, Los Angeles is the city to watch. With 100 MW of installed solar capacity to distribute among building owners who can sell back the energy to the grid, the city’s Department of Water and Power is currently implementing the largest solar feed-in tariff program in the U.S. How is the program progressing, and what sort of lessons has it learned that other cities can apply to their own initiatives?
A recently released evaluation of the first year of the feed-in tariff program (also known as Clean LA Solar) provides some insight. The study was commissioned by the Los Angeles Business Council Institute and conducted by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Public Affairs.
To get a handle on its performance in the first year of the estimated 3-year program, Luskin Center researchers J.R. DeShazo and Alex Turek interviewed Clean LA Solar administrators, solar developers and property owners about their experiences during the initial two phases. LA’s Department of Water and Power is tasked with deploying 20 MW during each six-month phase to qualified applicants.
What’s been going on
Since its launch one year ago and allocation of 40 MW of rooftop solar capacity (via 20-year contracts to each participant), Clean LA Solar is on track to meet its 100 MW goal by 2016, according to the evaluation, and has accomplished the following:
- Jobs: Generated 862 job-years (one year of one job) as determined by job-years created in the manufacturing of the solar system’s components (excluding the PV cells), installation, grid connection, operation and management, as well as the utility’s work to upgrade the grid’s network and administration of the feed-in tariff program
- Sufficient public interest: Received 226 applications for its small project category (up to 3 MW installed capacity for each) and large project (between 30 kW to 150 kW) categories — an “adequate” number, according to DeShazo and Turek
- Direct investment in the City of Los Angeles: Approximately $122 million from the solar industry (assuming that the average cost of installed solar watt is $3.05)
- Avoided greenhouse gas emissions: Saved 2.145 billion pounds of CO2 when compared to a coal-generated power plant, or allocated enough renewable energy equivalent to removing 200,000 cars from Los Angeles roadways
- Solar-powered homes: Allocated enough renewable energy to power approximately 8,640 homes in a year
“Although the first and second tranches [phases] were successful, this study highlights an opportunity to make the process more user-friendly and cost-efficient in the future,” said LA city councilmember Mitchell Englander.
What could be done better?
Researchers identified opportunities for improvement. These include:
- Monitor pricing to keep smaller projects competitive: Due to economies of scale, current price offerings may not be attractive for smaller project developers if the cost of solar components, capital, or installation rise
- Enable applications to be rolled over to the next phase: Allow building owner applicants to be automatically considered for the next phase (rather than making them apply all over again if a phase’s 20 MW allocation has already been distributed). This helps meet a common challenge among solar developers to continue working with building owners who will host solar systems on site through the Clean LA Solar program
- Establish a standardized acceptance and rejection timeframe for applicants: Applicants reported unclear expectations as to how quickly they would hear from Clean LA Solar as to whether they were accepted or not
- Communications: Applicants would be more likely to understand how to comply with codes and regulations if the city’s building and safety department could develop a Clean LA Solar guide for building owners/program participants. The goals and benefits of the program appear to be poorly understood by the public and the participants, which can hinder program participation
- Building out programs: Clean LA Solar’s 20-year contract period is not long enough for solar developers to know whether or not it’s worth continued investment for a permanent presence in the city. Policymakers should build out or build upon the program so that companies can make plans to expand their local workforce
Clean energy advocates such as Environment California‘s Michelle Kinman says the program’s success so far is reason to start looking ahead on how the city can commit to an even larger goal of adding on 500 MW to the program to reach a 600 MW of total installed capacity by 2020.
“We want to start now on ramping it up,” said Kinman, clean energy advocate for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization. “It’s just scratching the roof of LA’s full power potential.”
Echoing the evaluation’s findings, Kinman said that the city needs to send a signal to developers of a continued and expanded commitment to solar, otherwise they may feel compelled to invest elsewhere.
Environment California is working with the LA Business Council and a coalition of other organizations to get the city to source 20 percent of its power — 1200 MW — from solar by 2020. The timing couldn’t be better, as Los Angeles is currently considering its future energy mix, thanks to a resolution passed last April which commits to being coal-free by 2025, two years ahead of a state mandate.
But while Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, local and state officials and an array of organizations and community leaders have endorsed the call, the city has yet to formally sign on.
“Rooftops of office buildings, warehouses and apartments within the Los Angeles basin are proving to be outstanding sites for solar power plants,” said Brad Cox, chairman of the LA Business Council Institute. “With about 10,000 acres of rooftops in Los Angeles, we think the sky is the limit for the [Clean Solar LA] solar FiT program.”
Los Angeles solar roof photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Eric Richardson.
The post How L.A. is Implementing the Nation’s Largest Solar Feed-in Tariff appeared first on One Block Off the Grid.
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