The LADWP owns a large amount of idle real estate both inside and outside of the City of Los Angeles. Within LA City limits, the LADWP owns and operates 4 gas-powered generation plants: Valley Electrical Generating Station (Sun Valley), Scattergood Plant (El Segundo), Haynes Generating Station (Long Beach), and Harbor Generating Station (Wilmington). The oldest of these plants, Valley Electric, was built in 1953. The others are only slightly younger. Energy produced at these plants constitutes approximately 25% of LADWP’s total power supply and is cited by LADWP as an essential “bridge” in the transition from out-of-state coal to local renewables, due to their capacity to produce reliable, local, around-the-clock power.
Major updates at have significantly improved emissions and efficiency at these plants and further planned updates, including the phasing out of “once through” ocean water cooling, will continue to improve their environmental performance. Despite such efforts, these plants continue to pose a major environmental health risk to residents in the dense neighborhoods they occupy, contributing significantly to air and water quality issues, methane leakage, and problems related to industrial trucking. These plants present land use proximity hazards not only in their regular operation, but also the storage of their fuel stock as evidenced by the Aliso Canyon catastrophe. As with oil extraction, gas-powered electrical generation siting within city limits raises questions not only of land use proximity and hazard, but more fundamental questions of energy culture at large.
By allowing gas-powered electrical generation to take place without effectively safeguarding public health through the zoned separation of land uses, a choice is made to willfully compromise the health and safety of certain groups of citizens in order to ensure electrical delivery to all. Numerous economic, social, and historical factors are at play in legislating these decisions, including: the maintenance of reliable low-cost energy delivery, existing utility infrastructure, political pandering to economic interests, generation of state and local revenue through extraction and production, and established zoning and real estate practices which locate dense, low-income communities of color in nearest proximity to industrial hazards. Although the natural gas burned in the city’s four gas-powered plants does not come from LA City, LA County, or even from California, the ongoing decision to produce power through natural-gas combustion informs extraction and production practices nationally, and encourages the continued expansion of such practices in neighboring states.
Much of the department’s solar siting interest currently looks to eastern county sites, and out-of-state sites along existing high-power transmission lines currently in use for the transmission of coal generated power. The LADWP has approximately 152 MW of installed distributed residential solar backed by LADWP’s Solar Incentives Program (SIP), and 12.5MW of solar backed by feed-in-tariff programs. An additional capacity of 1 MW is slated for installation on the roof of the Los Angeles Convention Center by the end of 2017 as part of the Sustainable City pLAn’s near-term objectives.
LADWP is also developing a program to site as much as 40 MW of aggregated community solar capacity on existing LADWP-owned lands. These community solar sites will allow renters and other community members to “lock-in” low-cost power rates through investment in community solar. This program is intended to address the problem of “solar deserts” and wealth-bias in the distribution of LADWP solar incentives. LADWP has extensive real estate holdings citywide, many with strong potential as sites for aggregated solar and storage. All LADWP land is zoned “PF” PUBLIC FACILITY and as such is subject to liberalized land use regulations.
Statements from LADWP reveal skepticism—or perhaps lack of interest—in widespread distributed solar collection and storage as a viable future for LA City, favoring centralized solar infrastructure instead. However the Mayor’s Sustainable City pLAn calls out advantages of distributed power in disaster scenarios and blackouts, and cites the wealth of the residential solar field as one of LA’s preeminent sustainable assets. Furthermore, statements made by CalISO indicate that regional supply grids are already near the infrastructural requirement for as much as 80% distributed renewable capacity, citing lack of vision and regional integration as greater obstacles to solar transition than infrastructural upgrading. In any case, issues of energy storage remain amongst the most complex and least resolved of those impacting transitions to new modes of distributed sustainable solar energy infrastructure.
Through allowability, conditionality, and fee structuring, land use and zoning present promising legislative frameworks for siting and regulating the production and storage of renewable energy resources in residential, commercial, manufacturing, and public facilities contexts, while at the same time mitigating hazards of a ‘free market’ context inclined to preference out of date technologies and public dependency. As such, new planning approaches should be developed immediately and designed with creativity and rigor to ensure efficiency, egality, sustainability, and safety in the transition to renewable energy. These approaches should employ a wide range of tactics relating to the code’s intersection with information, law, infrastructure, transportation, architecture, economy, energy, and ownership.