Continent's Largest Municipal Utility Proposes Solar Feed-in
November 30, 2008
By Paul Gipe
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced to much fanfare on
November 24 that the city's municipal utility would launch one of the
continent's largest solar power programs.
The mayor's plan would direct the city's municipal utility, the Los
Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), to build or purchase 1,300
MW of solar energy by 2020.
Among provisions of the plan is a feed-in tariff for 150 MW of solar
photovoltaics by 2016. This is the first official announcement of a
feed-in tariff proposal by a California city, but it is not the first in
the United States.
Gainesville, Florida previously announced that it was formally
considering a feed-in tariff to replace its solar rebate program.
Recently, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported that Palm Desert,
California was also considering solar feed-in tariffs after city
officials toured Spain, one of the world's leading developers of solar
energy. Spain uses feed-in tariffs.
LADWP is the continent's largest municipal utility. It was briefly at the
forefront of solar energy development in California from 1999 to 2003,
before inexplicably abandoning its program.
The city and LADWP provided no details on the solar feed-in tariff or on
the other renewable energy proposals that were part of the mayor's press
release. There were no further details on LADWP's web site. Photos of
wind turbines on the web site were standard stock photos and all were of
wind turbines outside the utility's service area.
LADWP claims that 8.5% of its electricity currently comes from renewables
and that the utility is on track to meet its 20% target by 2010. The last
report on the utility's web site about its renewable energy program,
however, is dated 2003, the year the utility canceled its successful
Los Angeles' 120 MW Pine Tree wind project is slated to come on line in
2009. The project also is outside of the Los Angeles Basin, just north of
the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area.
Interestingly, it was a municipal utility that launched the modern
version of Germany's famed feed-in tariffs. Aachen introduced the first
solar-specific feed-in tariff in the mid-1990s. Subsequently other German
cities followed suit. In 2000 Germany's parliament incorporated the
concept behind Aachen's policy in its groundbreaking system of Advanced
Municipal utilities in the Americas may be able to emulate Aachen and be
the first to launch true feed-in tariffs. Because municipal utilities are
governed by city officials, they can be more responsive to public demands
for action on renewable energy than the often more distant state or
Toronto Hydro, North America's second largest and Canada's largest
municipal utility, briefly considered a solar PV feed-in tariff in 2007,
but took no action. The proposal before Toronto Hydro employed a
differentiated feed-in tariff that was intended to work with the province
of Ontario's Standard Offer Contract Program.
The proposal of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) is the most advanced
in the United States. GRU's commission has ordered preparation of a
In contrast to Gainesville's approach, LADWP made public little or no
information on the details of its proposal. GRU prepared a detailed
report which it presented to Gainesville's utility commission when the
utility went public with its proposal.
Los Angeles incorporates Hollywood within its city boundaries and there's
always an element of showmanship in its pronouncements. The city's
proposal is aggressive, more than one-third of the California Solar
Initiative's 3,000 MW of solar PV, if it is more than simply
The portion of the plan devoted to a feed-in tariff is about one-tenth of
the entire program. Countries that have been the most successful at
rapidly developing renewable energy (Germany, France, and Spain) use
feed-in tariffs as the principal if not only policy mechanism.
Despite the uncritical media accounts of the "world's most ambitious
solar plan," attention has focused not only on the targets, but also
on the various mechanisms that may be used to reach those targets,
including feed-in tariffs.
Regardless of how or even whether it follows through, Los Angeles, as one
of North America's largest cities, has put feed-in tariffs, at least for
solar, on the continent's public policy map.
This news update is partially supported by the Jan & David
Blittersdorf Foundation in cooperation with the Institute for Local Self
Reliance, and the Sierra Club's Smart Energy Solutions Fund. The views
expressed are those of Paul Gipe and are not necessarily those of the
Tehachapi CA 93561-1741 USA
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