LAUSD’s Own ‘Green New Deal’ Calls For Ditching Non-Renewable Energy By 2040

Imagine getting rid of every school bus, heating system, boiler, oven or stove in the Los Angeles Unified School District that currently runs on fossil fuels, and replacing them with an alternative powered by “clean, renewable” energy.

“It’s a heavy lift,” said LAUSD chief facilities executive Mark Hovatter. “It’s a very heavy lift.”

Still, L.A. Unified School Board members are considering exactly that. On Tuesday, they’ll consider adopting an aggressive set of goals that would ultimately wean the nation’s second-largest school district off of all non-renewable energy sources by 2040.

And that’s only the long-term goal. The legislation the board’s considering would also commit LAUSD to relying exclusively on clean sources of electricity by an even earlier deadline: 2030.

You might call it LAUSD’s own “Green New Deal.”


“The school district is an enormous energy user,” said LAUSD board member Jackie Goldberg, “so if we can get out of fossil fuels — first for our classrooms and schools, and then for our transportation vehicles and trucks — we will be making a significant reduction in the carbon footprint of our massive district.”

LAUSD is also the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s single-largest customer — which means, advocates say, any progress the school district makes would go a long way toward the City of L.A.’s overarching climate goals, which call for relying only on renewable energy sources by 2045.

“This is a huge deal — history-making for Los Angeles,” said Sybil Azur, a parent of an LAUSD student and co-leader of the 100% Green Schools L.A. coalition, a primary supporter of the school board’s action.

CAN IT BE DONE?

Maybe? If the district is to meet some of its 2040 goals, even advocates admit that existing technology will have to improve. For example, electric school buses can travel somewhat longer distances now, but remain prohibitively expensive.

The total price tag for the transition could also be enormous — $3 billion, Hovatter estimated — if LAUSD attempted to pay for it alone.

But advocates say the district would have ready partners willing to help cover some of the costs of switching to renewable energy sources, particularly in the electric sector.

A ‘COST-NEUTRAL’ SWITCH TO SOLAR?

For instance, solar power developers — concerned that current transmission lines won’t be able to carry energy from all the panels they’ve placed in the Mojave Desert — are desperate for roof space in urban Southern California.

LAUSD has more than 60 million square feet of roof space, said Michael Zelniker, also a leader of the 100% Green Schools L.A. coalition. Under programs known as “Feed-in Tariff,” solar power companies would pay LAUSD to use that space.

Solar panels on the roof of L.A. Unified’s Canoga Park High School. (Photo courtesy of LAU

“There’s no cost at all to the district,” Zelniker said, “because they don’t own the system. They don’t maintain the system. All the district is doing is providing the space for the solar installation.”

Zelniker said LAUSD could draw from the power of these solar installations. The solar companies would sell the excess — and pay LAUSD a dividend.

“There should be a way that it’s not only cost-neutral, but actually brings in revenue,” said Goldberg at a Nov. 14 committee hearing.

SO WHAT’S STOPPING THEM?

Even with solar, the devil will be in the details. In the past, installing solar panels has meant drilling holes in some very old roofs.

“We have a gym where we installed solar eight years ago,” Hovatter recalled. “We ripped it off because we just renovated the gym, and the roof leaks because we [had] solar.”

Alternative methods exist for installing solar panels on school building roofs — they involve straps that anchor the panels with no hole-drilling required — but Hovatter said LAUSD is still awaiting state regulatory approval before using them.

Hovatter noted similar state regulations restrict LAUSD’s ability to install wind turbines on its campuses.

Regulators, he explained, are “ultra-conservative when it comes to childrens’ safety.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

If the board approves the resolution, the first order of business will be to convene a task force of district staff, renewable energy experts and representatives of local utilities, to help develop an implementation plan.

The resolution calls for convening the task force by January 2020. The implementation plan would be due back to the school board by January 2021.

Renewable energy proposition electrifies supporters and opponents

PHOENIX – More than $40 million has been spent to fight for and against a ballot initiative that would change the future of Arizona’s energy mix. Proposition 127 has also been the subject of an Arizona Supreme Court lawsuit and a battle over claims that language from the Attorney General’s Office undermined the initiative.

If approved by voters Nov. 6, it would mandate the state’s regulated utility companies to get more of their energy from solar, wind and other renewable sources.

Supporters say it’s time to take advantage of one of the state’s most abundant resources: sunshine. Opponents say new energy mandates will result in higher costs for ratepayers.

In an interview with Fox News, Dr. Paul Bracken, a Yale University political science and management professor, said the state could be a testing ground for how other states deal with renewable energy standards.

“People who would like more sustainable energies are using the threat of a ballot initiative to put pressure on the state institutions of government and on the power companies themselves to change,” Bracken said. “I think one of the arguments in Arizona, is that for a state with its position in sustainable resources like solar it’s gone very, very slow in terms of particular solar but also wind—it hasn’t done as much as it should – so it could really influence Arizona Public Service and others to move in this direction.”

What the two sides say

Prop 127 would mandate that Arizona utility companies get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The Arizona Corporation Commission sets the current standard at 15 percent by 2025; if the initiative passes, the mandate will be included in the state Constitution.

Arizona ranks second behind Nevada in solar energy potential. Yet in 2016, solar accounted for about 5 percent of the state’s net electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Wind energy supplied less than 1 percent.

The group Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona collected hundreds of thousands of signatures to get Prop 127 on the ballot to change that mix.

However, Arizonans for Affordable Electricity filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court in July, claiming a number of signature-gathering violations by Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona. Lawyers for the group also said the initiative’s language about “clean” energy was misleading to petition-signers.

Judge Daniel Kiley in August rejected arguments for removing Prop 127 from the ballot. The lawsuit was appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which also sided with the defendants, effectively keeping the initiative on the ballot and giving Arizona voters a say in the state’s renewable energy makeup.

“Most Arizonans understand that solar could be a really huge resource here,” said DJ Quinlan, a spokesman for Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona. “And right now, we’re just not doing it.”

However, Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity – also known as No on Prop 127 – said Arizonans can expect a hefty increase in utility costs if the measure passes.

“For the typical Arizona family, that means a $1,000 or more in added utility costs over the course of the year,” he said, arguing that low income families and seniors living on fixed incomes would be hit the hardest.

In September, Prop 127 was again mired in controversy. Initiative supporters argued that language added by Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office to the initiative’s explanation in the voter ballot guide, which the Secretary of State’s Office creates, could make the measure less likely to pass, according to azcentral.com.

The language involves the potential costs to consumers. The phrase “irrespective of cost” was added by the Attorney General’s Office regarding utilities meeting the new energy standards. One official from the Secretary of State’s Office called the added language “eyebrow raising,” according to the azcentral.com article, because that language is not part of the ballot measure itself.

Supporters of Prop 127 also contend Brnovich is in the pocket of Pinnacle West Capital Corp. – the Phoenix-based parent company of Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility – because the company donated $425,000 to use against Brnovich’s opponent in the 2014 elections. The money was donated to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which spent $1.8 million to attack Democrat Felecia Rotellini in that election cycle.

Opposing views

Millions of dollars for campaign signs and radio and television ads have been raised by the two groups – and the messages are polar opposite.

For example, Arizonans for Affordable Electricity contends that Prop 127 would force the closure of the nation’s largest nuclear power plant, Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Tonopah, just west of Phoenix. Palo Verde supplies at least 27 percent of Arizona’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration, and employs more than 2,500 people, according to APS, which is one of the operators of the facility.

“Closing current power plants, bringing online new resources and all of these costs get passed along to guess who? Ratepayers,” Benson said. “That’s the reason ratepayers will see their costs go up drastically if this becomes part of the Constitution.”

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona refutes the idea that Palo Verde would shut down.

“Palo Verde, we believe, is here to stay for its whole life cycle, and we’re supportive of that,” Quinlan said. “Having 50 percent renewable energy sitting next to 30 percent clean energy is a very compatible and healthy thing for our state.”

Nuclear energy emits lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions, making it comparatively “cleaner” than such sources as coal or natural gas, according to Lincoln Davies, a law professor at the University of Utah who studies renewable energy policy in the U.S. and on a global scale.

The group also argues that new infrastructure would be needed to bring more renewable energy to the electrical grid, and that means jobs.

“What would happen is a pretty substantial and markable increase in our solar industry right away, which could really bring in a lot of good jobs and actually cut down on costs,” Quinlan said.

Where the money comes from

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona has raised more than $18 million to support Prop 127, according to campaign finance reports. NextGen Climate Action, an environmental advocacy organization founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer, provided more than 99 percent of funds for the group.

Arizonans for Affordable Electricity is largely backed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., and has raised more than $22 million to oppose Prop 127, according to campaign finance reports.

Davies said it’s not surprising to see large utility companies spending millions of dollars to oppose mandates like Prop 127.

“As the grid has started to evolve,” he said, “as solar has become a really powerful influence in terms of how electricity is getting produced in the United States, you’re starting to see pushback from a lot of utilities and other political constituencies in different states against some of these measures, especially as they become more stringent.”

Similar initiatives are on the ballot next month in Nevada and Washington. Twenty-nine states have renewable portfolio standards that mandate electric utilities generate a certain amount of total energy from renewable sources. California and Hawaii share the highest future requirements: 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Arizona renewable energy standards are currently set at 15 percent by 2025.

“The idea of these laws was to drive down the cost of renewables over time so that they could be scaled up as technologies and be used across the grid,” Davies said.

The last day to mail in ballots is Oct. 31.


–Video by Rachel Carlton

Mowers in sheep’s clothing: Flock works at solar panel farm

WILLCOX, Arizona – It was time to bring the sheep in for a drink.

“Go to water, go to water!” shouts Rusty Cocke, who owns about 200 head of sheep that act as living lawn mowers on a solar farm about 20 miles west of Willcox, Arizona.

The sheep have spent the morning munching through mesquite saplings and tall grass. They come in slowly, stepping among rows of solar panels that are harvesting the sun’s energy to power 20,000 Arizona homes.

Rusty Cocke herds his sheep to water after a day of munching grass around solar panels. (Photo by Tayler Brown/Cronkite News)

Once their water break is over, the sheep go back to work on the Red Horse II solar and wind farm, eating vegetation that could grow as high as 7 feet and cast shadows over the solar panels, decreasing their efficiency. The sheep essentially work for food and a place to stay.

Sheep, cows and goats are being used to clean up invasive vegetation on lands in Arizona and other states because, supporters say, it’s cheaper and environmentally friendlier than using machines. Cocke estimated his four-legged landscape operation is 30 percent cheaper than professional landscapers, which can cost $70,000 to $100,000.

Shepherd Rusty Cocke rents out his sheep to clear vegetation growing around solar panels at Red Horse II solar and wind farm. (Photo by Tayler Brown/Cronkite News)

Goats have grazed the grassy areas along Loop 202 in the southeast Valley, according to the East Valley Tribune. In Idaho, the federal Bureau of Land Management is researching whether cattle can graze in areas susceptible to wildfires. And there’s an Arizona website devoted to wildlife landscapers that touts the small carbon footprint of goats and the benefits of turning cattle into “weed managers.”

Machines, goats won’t work

The solar farm tried using people to mow the grass, said Eric Heim, who manages the Red Horse II and other solar and wind farms in the Southwest. But humans and their machines proved to be problematic.

The landscaping equipment was clunky and difficult to maneuver between the rows of solar panels, and it kicked up rocks and debris that could damage the solar arrays. The time investment was another issue.

“Before, it would take someone over 250 hours to mow the plants in between the panels every couple of months,” Heim said.

He considered using goats, but because goats will eat just about anything, they likely would chew the wires hanging underneath the solar panels. And cows are so big they’d rub against the panels.

Sheep solved the problem.

Cocke, the shepherd of the solar-farm herd, said sheep can handle most plants that nature provides. At the solar farm, Johnson grass, tumbleweed and mesquite trees can shade or overgrow panels if they’re not controlled.

At Red Horse II, which is owned and operated by a Houston company and contracts with Tucson Electric Power to provide renewable energy, the land tells the story of where the sheep have grazed. Red dirt is exposed, dotted with clumps of green near the panels. Elsewhere, golden sweeps of Johnson grass create a sea beneath some solar panels, awaiting hungry sheep.

“The sheep work perfectly symbiotic with the solar panels,” Cocke said. “They cruise through. They eat all the grass. I’ve had so much good luck with them right here.”

Johnson grass can grow 7 feet tall and impede solar-energy harvesting. (Photo by Tayler Brown/Cronkite News)

Cocke raises his sheep off the vegetation they eat at the farm and sells the sheep’s wool and meat for added profits. He would not say how much he was paid for the annual contract at Red Horse II.

Cocke wants to expand his sheep project into other ventures, perhaps even partnering with vineyards in southeastern Arizona.

Cattle prevent forest fires

Kathy Voth of Tucson, who runs the website Livestock for Landscapes and edits a weekly online magazine about agriculture practices, said livestock landscaping has been around for at least a decade. There’s little data on the practice, but she says it’s growing.

“Every year I get more and more emails about people interested in using animals for landscaping,” said Voth, who put together a handbook on CD, now out of print, with a cover photo of a goat clad in firefighting gear.
In Boise, Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management is researching the use of cattle for “targeted grazing” to reduce the severity and destruction of wildfires in the state, BLM spokesman David Walsh said.

The bureau considered cattle rather than sheep or goats because it feared those animals would spread disease to the vulnerable bighorn sheep population in the area, said Lake Okeson, the acting BLM field manager for the targeted-grazing project.

“This is the kind of stuff BLM should be doing all the time,” Okeson said.

The partnership is fantastic for local cattle owners to fulfill a need within the community and access extra grazing land, he said.

Voth said other commercial landscaping operations, such as Eco-Goats, which rents goats for landscaping in Maryland, have become more popular.

Voth’s website includes a database to connect people interested in goat landscaping with local shepherds who can provide the service.