Los Angeles Aims To Be Coal-Free In 12 Years

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa intends to sign two agreements that will get the city off of coal-generated electricity entirely by 2025, according to reports flagged on Monday by the Sierra Club. Currently, the the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) relies on two coal-fired power plants — Intermountain Power Plant in Delta, Utah and the Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona — for about 39 percent of its power.

Villaraigosa made the announcement last week at a green cities event sponsored by UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, just days after the “Forward On Climate” rallies brought tens of thousands of people out across the country to protest both the Keystone XL pipeline and the general lack of policy momentum to fight climate change — including 2,000 protestors in front of Los Angeles City Hall.

“We’ll be out of Navajo, 2015. Intermountain looks like 2025,” Villaraigosa said. “It will be a big deal.”

About 39 percent of L.A.’s power comes from the two out-of-state coal plants now. The Navajo Generating Station in Arizona represents around a third of LA’s coal-fired power; the Intermountain Power Plant in Utah produces about two-thirds of that power, which along with natural gas remains cheaper than less-polluting renewable energy like geothermal, solar and wind power.

During his second inaugural address in 2009, Villaraigosa announced plans for L.A. to eliminate coal from its energy portfolio by the year 2020. Subsequent shakeups at the top of the Department of Water and Power, a bruising political battle over a “carbon tax” and related energy rate increases slowed progress toward that goal.

Villaraigosa’s timeline for the Navajo plant matches up with recommendations put forward by the LADWP in its 2012 Integrated Resources Plan.

Getting a city of 4 million people off of coal-generated electricity, especially when it accounts for almost 40 percent of their total energy supply, was always going to be a heavy lift. So it’s no surprise the original 2020 goal fell short. A late 2011 report from the LADWP recommended scaling back that target, and Villaraigosa eventually agreed to pursue 33 percent renewables by 2020.

At the same time, Los Angeles actually hit another one of its recent environmental goals: getting 20 percent of its power from renewable sources in 2010. That same LADWP report warned that success could be temporary, with renewables falling back to 13 percent of L.A.’s portfolio in 2015 if further investments weren’t made. Hopefully, the $2.5 billion California voters decided to set aside in the 2012 elections for energy efficiency projects will help bring the complementary goal of more energy from renewables closer to realization.

17 Responses to Los Angeles Aims To Be Coal-Free In 12 Years

  1. This is good news, but it would be better news if we knew what they are replacing coal with. If it’s natural gas, it’s somewhat of an improvement. It it’s renewables and efficiency, that is a great leap forward indeed.

    It seem like the later, but it’s unclear, at least to me, from the article. Any more info?

  2. Russ says:

    The Keystone does present all sorts of complicated problems, but our penchant for game theory eventually has to take a backseat to our climate. Every circumstance in which we compete for resources will offer excuse not to change the tide, but if cooking the Earth isn’t a deterrent, what is?

  3. Sasparilla says:

    My guess is its probably some renewables and a lot of natural gas (otherwise they’d be saying it’ll all be replaced with renewables).

    They have to replace 2800 MW from coal with other sources. The biggest solar installation down in the Mojave is 400MW.

    This gives us a taste of how tough it’ll be to convert over to renewables en scale – on the face of it I thought LA shouldn’t be on coal anyways and it should be a no brainer to switch off of it (5 years easy right?), but its going to be a stretch to do this (as they’ve had to scale back the date by 5 years here – 3 years ago they were going to do it by 2020).

  4. fj says:

    Twelve years starts to become the type of time frame that really makes sense.

    The race is on.

  5. fj says:

    The also starts to confirm Alex Steffen’s manifesto “Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities . . .”

  6. SecularAnimist says:

    Sasparilla wrote: “They have to replace 2800 MW from coal with other sources. The biggest solar installation down in the Mojave is 400MW.”

    A March 2011 study by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation found that Los Angeles County has over 19,000 MW of rooftop solar PV potential.

    The City of Los Angeles itself has over 5,500 MW rooftop solar potential, which is enough to power the entire city on most days (the highest recorded peak consumption in Los Angeles was 6,177 MW).

    And that’s just rooftops — it doesn’t include other potential sites for PV such as parking lots, brownfields, landfills, etc.

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    Good for the Mayor. One reason solar has been stalled has been land entitlement delays in the Mojave, including frivolous lawsuits from stealth enviros- who actually worked for the gas industry.

    Arizona coal is especially dirty. They should close Navajo and Black Mesa as soon as possible.

  8. rollin says:

    The reduction of coal burning is always a good thing. However, does L.A.’s choice actually shut down the coal plants or do they just sell the power elsewhere?
    If L.A. is switching to nat gas, this is only a minor victory for climate change and still maintains the fossil fuel mindset.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Los Angeles is a desert. The answer is obviously rooftop PV, plus solar thermal and wind, plus efficiency. It’s not rocket surgery, you know. Coal for twelve more years then gas is, if you’ll pardon mon French, crap.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Cooking the planet deters me, but what of the Death Worshipers, the thanatocrats who prefer money to life and do not give a stuff what happens when they are dead? What of them?

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Exactly, and if they meant business ie they intended to see that their own children would not live in Hell, they’d given the bloody things away, gratis.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I know that astro-turf phoney ‘Greens’ really exist-we have a few down here. But the Mojave is fragile, precarious and a valuable biodiversity reserve, so I’d really prefer solar thermal to go elsewhere, where the land is derelict and degraded. And, of course, rooftop PV keeps looking better and better.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The ‘fossil fuel mindset’ is the psychology of the ruling class, because fossil fuels represent twenty or thirty trillion in assets, that they will fight to the death to see do not become ‘stranded’.

  14. If I were Mayor King of LA I would go the German way to solve LA’s ‘energy problem’. Given the usual political delay tactics (no money in the budget)I would pass a city law requiring all buildings and homes to install renewable energy systems to cover their respective energy consumptions(the German rule for new buildings).

    The first step in this plan would determine an energy audit for each building (lots of job creation there). The second step would be to create the time frame for achieving the installation goal. It’s obvious if everyone were required to do this at the same time, it would be total paralysis since there is only so much installation capacity.

    To overcome this limitation, specific buildings would be randomly chosen each year that would match the installation capacity available to install the required amount of renewable energy (solar panels, solar thermal, etc.)as required by the new city law.

    If anyone thinks this is too idealistic, let me point out this same scheme is used here in France where I live, but it concerns the facade of buildings and homes in the cities. It’s an old French urban law that requires building owners to perform a cleaning and restoration of the front of their buildings every 20 years.

    Owners are not concerned about when to do this restoration because in practice the city government sends them a letter stating they have to do the restoration within the year. This allows the urban planners to balance the amount of work with the available contractors.

    French owners don’t bulk much because they get tax deductions and credits for much of the cost.

    City governments should use this old system to get rooftop solar panels and solar thermal systems installed in a massive roll-out campaign in cities everywhere.

  15. GreenCaboose says:

    Wow, so if this happens then starting in 2015 we’ll be able to see Shiprock again from the Far View Lodge at Mesa Verde. I really hope this happens.

    That Navajo coal plant really screws up the 4 corners area with its pollution.

  16. Ken Barrows says:

    I remember that California (in about 1989) pledged to have 2% of the car fleet electric by 1998. Didn’t happen. Hope this is different.

  17. Elouise says:

    And therein lies the problem. The truth is that we already have the technology to live sustainability using renewable energy. What we do not have is the will. Congress is too muddled to take any deliberate action. There is only so much the president can do when every step of the way he is faced with Congress. The current fossil fuel-driven energy market isn’t sustainable. It seems that much of the public, though they might express concern, don’t feel that they have much a choice when it comes to affecting the future of sustainability.

    But in terms of the article, much praise to Mayor Villaraigosa for his initiatives in Los Angeles. There certainly is hope for our energy future, and this article suggests that perhaps it will come from smaller government action than widespread national policy. Just food for thought.