Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Campaign to get L.A. beyond coal heats up


If you listed to President Obama’s State of the Union Address last month, you likely noticed that Obama expanded his definition of “clean energy” to include nuclear power, natural gas, and “clean coal.” That bigger definition irked some environmentalists — but got kudos from others for putting the focus on our dirtiest source of energy: Dirty coal.

“What Obama is calling on Congress to do is to reduce the amount of dirty coal America uses, from its current level — around 45 percent — to 20 percent,” wrote David Roberts at Grist. “On the substance, there’s a simple reason to go right after coal. To paraphrase Willie Sutton, that’s where the pollution is.”

In Los Angeles, we have an official goal to wean ourselves off coal altogether -- though 39 percent of our power still comes from the dirty stuff right now. Back in 2009, Mayor Villaraigosa announced that L.A. will eliminate electricity from coal by 2020. Since then, efforts to cut L.A.’s ties to coal have been in high gear, coordinated by Sierra Club’s LA Beyond Coal campaign. Last October, the campaign held a rally at L.A. City Hall. There, L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti made an appearance to lend his support. “I pledge to all of you to make sure that with all of your help, if you keep up this fight with us, we will get off coal in Los Angeles,” he said.

But despite the support of local political leaders, getting L.A. off coal isn’t a done deal. L.A. gets its coal-powered energy from two sources — the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona and the Intermountain Power Plant in Utah. And while the draft LADWP Integrated Resource Plan — a document that provides a 20-year framework to meet L.A.’s energy needs — recommends selling L.A.’s share of the Navajo Generating Station, it also recommends continuing to get energy from Intermountain Power Plant in Utah until its contract expires in 2027. Here’s LA DWP’s not-very-lay-reader-friendly recommendation from the draft LADWP Integrated Resource Plan (PDF; p. ES-12):

LADWP recommends modeling and planning for IPP to be compliant with SB 1368 by 2027. However, LADWP will continue to evaluate options in future IRPs. LADWP will continue to work with the Intermountain Power Agency (IPA) Board and the other participants to secure IPP as a renewable energy hub and provide replacement generation compliant with SB 1368. LADWP recommends no change in IPP until 2027 at which time the site would be reconfigured, providing LADWP with firm transmission capacity for potential renewable projects.

That recommendation doesn’t sit well with LA Beyond Coal supporters. “This is unacceptable,” reads a campaign summary from Sierra Club about LA Beyond Coal’s work thus far. “Los Angeles needs to develop and execute a plan now to end its use of coal-fired power by 2020.” To that end, LA Beyond Coal’s holding a Beyond Coal Spring Campaign Kick-Off Meeting tomorrow — offering free lunch to would-be environmental volunteers. The main goal of the campaign is simple: “Create a plan to stop burning coal at IPP [Intermountain Power Agency] by 2020 and embed it into the LADWP Integrated Resource Plan.”

Of course, achieving that goal’s going to be difficult. In December, KPCC’s Pat Morrison discussed some of the many issues plaguing LA DWP, from rooftop solar rebate rates to rate hikes — and L.A. Times reported on the agency’s quiet scaling back of its renewable energy goals, downsizing its target from 40% to 33% renewable energy target by 2020. “That move would cut costs to the utility’s residential and business customers by up to $2.4 billion over 20 years,” reported L.A. Times. What are your thoughts on LA DWP’s plans for coal and renewable energy?

Photo: Rally to Kick Coal and Oil out of L.A. at Los Angeles City Hall on Oct., 10, 2010 (Zach Behrens/LAist)