Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Los Angeles Water and Power commissioners approve rooftop solar incentives for DWP

Solar panels cover the rooftop of the Staples Center sports complex in Los Angeles, California.
Solar panels cover the rooftop of the Staples Center sports complex in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

Water and power commissioners in Los Angeles have approved a program that will encourage large-scale solar development in the Los Angeles basin.

A pilot version of the so-called “feed-in tariff” program -- which promotes solar energy development on privately-held sites --  has met with heavy demand in Los Angeles.  Similar programs in Germany and elsewhere in Europe are credited with creating demand for commercial solar projects.

In Los Angeles, companies that win bids with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power can sell the utility solar energy they collect on large rooftop arrays for 20 year terms at an agreed-upon price.

Today's approval sets pricing for the first 100 megawatts of solar energy under the program. According to the utility’s website, it will sort out the details by March for an additional 50 megawatts of power.

Local environmental and business advocates have supported the feed-in tariff program since its inception. A Los Angeles Business Council study found that about 3 percent of the city’s rooftops are suitable in structure and location for the program.

Other studies conclude that the program will add 4,500 jobs and $500 million dollars to the region’s economy.

Sierra Club representative Evan Gillespie said solar power should replace the utility's heavy use of cheaper -- and dirtier -- coal energy.

“In the 21st century, it is simply unacceptable for 40% of L.A.’s energy to come from aging out-of-state polluting coal-fired power plants,” he said in a written statement. “Local renewable energy generation like the CLEAN LA Solar program will enable our city to replace the dirty Navajo Generating Station coal plant in Arizona.”

California law requires utilities to offer feed-in tariff programs that together total 750 megawatts. LADWP’s share of that responsibility is 75 megawatts. The utility has committed to a program that will double that size by 2016. DWP officials said they plan to offer a total of 600 megawatts of feed-in tariff solar power by 2020.