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.

What The New Solar Requirement Means For Housing In California

As of Jan. 1, every new home or three-story residential building in California has to have its energy powered by solar sources.

Developers and builders have had a couple of years to prepare, but there are clear challenges, particularly for smaller companies. And how could it affect the prices in a state where a lack of affordable housing is already a deep concern?

To learn more about the impact already being felt and what it could be going forward, The Show talked to Dustin Mulvaney. He’s an Associate Professor at San Jose State University and author of “Solar Power: Innovation, Sustainability and Environmental Justice.”

Navajo, SRP Take Steps To Make Solar A Priority

The Navajo Nation is taking steps to make solar energy a priority, with the help of Salt River Project.

Salt River Project seeks proposals for up to 200 megawatts of solar development on the Navajo Nation. That energy will be transmitted to SRP customers in the Valley.

Proposed projects must be in operation by December 2023, so they can take advantage of federal tax incentives.

The contract will help SRP reach its goal of 1,000 megawatts of new solar energy in the next five years. The utility has committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 90% by 2050.

“It’s the beginning of a new era for the Navajo Nation,” Navajo President Jonathan Nez said. “We recognize that coal-based energy provided many benefits for the workers and their families, but times are changing and energy development is changing.”

In November, SRP and other utilities shut down the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant, in favor of natural gas and renewable energy.

“We are looking to become the leader in renewable energy throughout the Southwest and Indian Country,” Nez said.

Red Zones & Green Jobs: Creating an Equitable Solar-Powered City

LONG BEACH, Calif. – They call it the classroom on the roof. On an early May morning in the Wrigley neighborhood of Long Beach, I’m harnessed to a group of volunteers and trainees for GRID Alternatives. The workers on today’s installation are retirees, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, at-risk youth, and others seeking to transition into green energy jobs. Under the supervision of solar installation specialist Natalie Andrade, I’m helping to build the attachment that will hold the forty-pound silicon modules in place.

Andrade came to GRID through the nonprofit’s partnership with Homeboy Industries’ Solar Power training program. Since 2010, Homeboy has offered education in solar technologies to formerly incarcerated, gang-affiliated, and other at-risk individuals by paying tuition for photovoltaic classes at the East Los Angeles Skills Center. GRID provides many graduates of the program free, hands-on training for careers in solar energy. Andrade, who has faced homelessness and addiction, now prepares trainees for green jobs, while also providing underserved communities with solar panels free of charge.


Learn more about the work of Grid Alternatives in this Earth Focus episode.

The rooftop classrooms where Andrade teaches, like the frontline neighborhoods where many GRID trainees grew up, are in the environmentally-disadvantaged zones of Los Angeles. By providing solar panels, GRID works to offset the energy burden of low-income households. Margaret Anne Apodaca, who has lived in her Long Beach home for more than 30 years, is now likely to save between 50 and 80 percent on her electric bill. Those on the roof with me are learning skills for success in the solar industry. In 2019, GRID will help its 500th trainee into a career, while providing more than five million dollars in lifetime savings for low-income families.

Mapping Environmental Disadvantage

Red zones delineated in this map mark areas of environmental disadvantage, as measured by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. (Map courtesy OEHHA)

An enormous urban and suburban area of freeways and refineries, greater Los Angeles holds many more environmentally-disadvantaged zones than any other county in the state. On behalf of the California EPA, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment measures environmental disadvantage by examining the exposure to contamination, environmental effects of toxic chemicals, sensitivity of the population, and socioeconomic conditions of state census tracts. By these indicators, more than 9.7 million county residents live within environmentally-disadvantaged red zones. These same census tracts correspond to the broader inequality of the county. Economic and environmental precarity are interlocking burdens in Los Angeles.

Beyond the challenges of low income and the health problems that correspond with poverty, residents of these red zones suffer greater exposure to pollutants and higher asthma rates. As part of the objective to address concerns of environmental justice as well as climate change, at least 35 percent of California Climate Investments through cap-and-trade programs are reinvested in these neighborhoods. GRID, whose triple-bottom-line is “People, Planet, Employment,” partners with the state to ensure that the same communities who have been most harmed by industry stand to benefit from new environmental technologies.

Green New Jobs

Related story

LA Is Proposing Its Own Green New Deal — And It Involves A Lot Of Zeros

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Green New Deal for L.A. demonstrates a commitment to environmental justice as part of the larger effort to combat climate change in the city. Calling for 100% renewable energy by 2045, mostly through solar, hydro-electric, and wind, the plan also promises “to ensure that every Angeleno has the ability to join the green economy, creating pipelines to good paying, green jobs, and a just transition in a changing work environment.” If successful, the mayor’s initiative will create 400,000 jobs by the year 2050.

Already the number one solar city in the nation, L.A. has the chance to minimize the risk to environmentally-disadvantaged communities while providing workforce development to underserved populations. The majority of jobs in solar energy are in installation and project development, and entry level installers earn an average of $19-24 per hour. Because 67% of solar jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree, yet they pay high wages and offer opportunities for career advancement, solar could be a crucial industry in the broader citywide effort to pair environmental justice and green energy goals.

From Prison to Solar Panels

If Los Angeles is to become an equitable solar city, which invests in communities as well as technologies, people with a criminal record people could benefit. Though nonprofit organizations like Homeboy and GRID provide workforce training to the formerly incarcerated, California prisons fail to connect inmates to employment services, and few corporations are willing to hire individuals with a record. Though the state set new goals in 2012 to facilitate transitions for inmates, a 2017 report demonstrates that 62% of prisoners failed to receive services geared toward rehabilitation and employment. Recidivism in California remains around 50%, even as the overall population of the incarcerated is dropping in the state.

GRID Alternatives workers David and Natalie Andrade pose with Little David Andrade. (Photo by Robin Kello/KCET)

David Andrade, Volunteer Training Coordinator for GRID and Natalie’s husband, was determined to enter the workforce after serving nine years in prison. “As soon as I got released, my whole goal was to stay out, stay productive,” he tells me. Yet employers were reluctant to hire him.

“I did the interview, had a resume, never heard back from them,” he says. “I felt like, I might as well go back to robbing people and selling drugs again, if I couldn’t get a regular job.” Instead, he came to Homeboy, where he first trained as an installer but quickly found an aptitude for helping others with employment. “I was really good at getting trainees into solar careers,” he says. “I just had a talent, a knack for it. Honestly it was a blessing from God just to even move formerly incarcerated men and women into solar careers.”

David and Natalie met at Homeboy. Now, they both bring solar energy to the environmentally-disadvantaged zones of Los Angeles. “A lot of those low-income communities are communities like I grew up around, like my wife grew up around,” David says, adding that when they get a home of their own, it will be in a similar neighborhood.

“It’s a miracle every day that I’m here and just giving that second chance,” Natalie says about leading the classroom on the roof. “The reason that I love it is I’m teaching people who are coming from where I came from.”

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