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Environment & Science

LADWP launches solar buyback program (finally)

The DWP's
The DWP's "feed-in tariff" program aims to encourage solar projects larger than those on typical residential homes in the LA basin by buying back energy through long-term contracts.
Metro Transportation Library & Archive/Flickr

The time for studies, public hearings, pilot projects, public hearings, workshops, and more public hearings is over. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power begins taking applications for its “feed-in tariff” program today. 

“Feed-in tariff” is a completely unhelpful translation of a German phrase, as I reported in an early explainer of the program. The program allows property owners who can develop a moderately-sized renewable project in the city’s territory to sell the energy from such a project back to the utility. Technically, that includes solar, wind, or geothermal energy; practically, we’re looking at solar panels on big box stores and over parking lots.

A Luskin Center for Public Policy/UCLA study found that feed-in tariffs could lower the overall cost of switching LA from coal to renewables. As I wrote almost three years ago:

"If it focuses only on residential solar that's going to be very very expensive. if it focuses only on municipally installed in-basin solar, that's going to be the second most expensive," [J.R.] DeShazo says. "The cheapest is going to be allow large scale commercial solar installations."

Getting to this day has been a rocky process. In the years since then, it moved along very slowly, hampered at times by the lack of a ratepayer advocate. More recently, the approval given by the Board of Water and Power Commissioners drew skepticism from the current ratepayer advocate, Fred Pickel…his skepticism raised questions for the LA city council, which after a brief debate let it go forward

It’s likely the solar feed-in tariff would expand under the next mayor. All of the candidates are generally supportive of solar energy development. Council members Jan Perry and Eric Garcetti have both come out in favor of 600 MW feed-in tariff programs