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.”

Environmentalists: Retiring Colorado’s Coal Fleet is Cost-Effective by 2023

DENVER – Retiring Colorado’s fleet of coal-fired power plants could cut carbon and save utility customers billions of dollars, according to a new analysis by the Sierra Club.

The study looked at the economic impact of replacing 10 coal units in the state with cheaper wind and solar.

The Sierra Club hired the consulting firm Strategen to examine different scenarios. The firm found that utilities could save about $1.7 billion if they replaced the units with wind, and $1.4 billion if they replaced coal with solar instead. The analysis did not include coal units currently slated for retirement such as Nucla and Xcel’s Comanche Units 1 and 2.

When Strategen calculated the social cost of carbon on the plants to account for public health and property damage using recently approved state formulas, it found nearly $18 billion in savings. The social cost of carbon looks at the overall cost of climate change to human health, economies and society.

“The report shows how the coal-fired generation in Colorado’s energy portfolio is economically unviable, and how it’s burdening electricity customers with extra costs when compared with cheaper wind and solar,” said Anna McDevitt, senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

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The Sierra Club is calling on electricity providers like Xcel Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to retire coal plants early. State lawmakers have also put new pressures on utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. In the last session, they passed HB 1261, which requires the state overall to reduce emissions 90 percent by 2050.

Tri-State didn’t comment directly on the report’s findings, but said in a statement it’s doing its own analysis, and remains committed to purchasing renewable energy. Xcel Energy did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Harvesting Solar Could Help Small-Scale Farmers Improve Sustainability

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. – A third generation farmer will soon attempt a new form of barn raising. Rather than just grow crops or raise livestock, Byron Kominek wants to harvest sunshine

A former U.S. diplomat in southern Africa with a master’s degree in environmental engineering, Kominek has since reinvented himself as a small-scale farmer and renewable energy advocate. At present, his goal is to install five acres of solar panels on 24 acres of farmland, which his grandfather Jack purchased in 1972.

An aerial view of the solar panels at Jack’s Solar Garden. (Artwork courtesy of Jack’s Solar Garden by artist Jeff Slemons)

Although the farm has had good years, the profit margin on crops like hay and alfalfa had declined. “Over the past few years we’ve lost money on the farm,” Kominek said. To compensate for the loss of revenue, he plans to co-locate solar panels with agricultural production.

Jack’s Solar Garden is among the first (perhaps the only farm) on the Front Range to do this and it could be the future of farming. The practice is known as agrivoltaics, a mashup of agriculture and photovoltaic, which are devices designed to generate power directly from the sun.

If agrivoltaics reduces the operating costs on farms and ranches of Colorado, farmers in California are bound to take notice. Agriculture consumes 8% of the energy used in the state, much of that is used for pumping groundwater and irrigation on 5 million acres of farmland in the Central and Imperial Valleys. Therefore, solutions aimed at reducing energy and water consumption can have a huge impact on a farmer’s bottom line.

For now, the technology has a Whole Earth Catalog tang to it, recalling an era of geodesic domes and off-the-grid pot farms. Although the hippies’ back-to-the-land movement waned during the 70s, their influence has endured. In rural towns across the U.S. organic farming and marijuana cultivation is an essential, if not, increasingly mainstream part of the rural economy. Meanwhile, interest in sustainable farming continues to increase, due to concern over the specter of climate shocks, such as drought and food security.

According to the U.N. solving food-energy-water nexus is central to sustainable development. The demand for all three is increasing due to the global rise in population, industrialization and the growth of the global economy. Agriculture consumes one-third of the world’s freshwater supply and accounts for 25% of the energy consumed.

The purpose of agrivoltaics is to untangle this resource conundrum. Enabling farmers to diversify their income by producing renewable energy, while preserving much of their land for crop production. Typically, it’s an array of solar panels perched high enough above the ground to grow shade-tolerant plants beneath them with enough clearance to allow people, livestock and farm equipment to pass.

Oregon vineyard in the Willamette Valley wine region utilizing solar power. (Photo courtesy Jason Lander/Creative Commons License)

After discussing the benefits of agrivoltaics with friends in Colorado and realizing the myriad of challenges that he faced, Komineck saw an opportunity. “I thought, ‘Why not try it on our farm?’” he said.

He worked with Boulder officials in updating land use code to allow community solar gardens on more farmland across the county. By year’s end, the farm could have 3,000 panels set in rows 17 feet apart. Each row will track the sun from east to west. Dubbed Jack’s Solar Garden after his grandfather, his website offers renderings of his vision for the what the project will look like upon completion.

In addition to growing crops beneath solar panels, Komineck has plans to generate 1.2 megawatts of electricity, enough power to supply up to 300 homes connected to the grid. Under this rubric, consumers will purchase energy from Jack’s Solar Garden in much the same way they can purchase produce directly from farmers. But instead of selling fruits and vegetables, this CSA will produce electricity. “We’ll be selling subscriptions to the community and to large institutions,” he said.

If that wasn’t ambitious enough, he also intends to plant an apple orchard and keep bees. To stay on track, Komineck has partnered with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Lab (NREL), University of Arizona and Colorado State University.

NREL and other research institutions are testing the merits of agrivoltaics in about 20 locations across the country with projects in the planning stages or underway in Oregon, Arizona and California, among others. “What we try to do is design projects to meet local needs and adapt to local conditions,” said Jordan Macknick, lead energy water and analyst for NREL.



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At this juncture, NREL’s goal is to move agrivoltaics out of the lab and into farm settings. Traditionally, farming and solar panels were considered incompatible. When renewable energy companies leased or purchased land from farmers they removed the topsoil, taking the land out of agricultural production.

Agrivoltaics refrains from removing the topsoil. Instead of packed earth or gravel, a farmer has the option to grow native plants or to plant shade-tolerant crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.

One of the challenges of agrivoltaics is a matter of finding the sweet spot between shade and sun. Placement of the panels is critical, set far enough apart to allow plants to flourish without substantial cuts in energy production. Too much shade will impede photosynthesis. On the other hand, excess heat hampers the performance of solar panels, reducing their ability to produce power.

According to Macknick, the combination of the panels and vegetation can improve productivity because the shadows cast by solar panels and the groundcover work together to create a favorable microclimate. “Under the solar panels you have better moisture retention. What we’re finding is slightly cooler temperatures during the day and slightly warmer temperatures at night.”

Solar cell panels installed over paddy fields in Kamisu City, Ibaraki Pref., Japan. (Photo courtesy Σ64 / Creative Commons License)

A recent paper published in the journal PLOS One offered some tantalizing details. In May 2015, researchers at Oregon State University, in Corvallis, installed microclimate research stations beside solar panels with and without vegetation underneath. The instrumentation gathered data on the ambient temperature, humidity and soil moisture. Over the course of the summer, data revealed the soil under the solar panels with vegetation had higher moisture content. Moreover, the plant volume had doubled in size and yielded greater nutritional value in comparison to un-shaded plants in the surrounding area.

“Under this configuration if you can produce more crops with less water, who doesn’t want to see that,” said Macknick.

However not every farm is suitable for agrivoltaics. Installing solar panels may be cost prohibitive, for example, in remote areas with ample farmland and an abundant water supply.

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In California, exploring agrivoltaics will require striking a balance between the competing interests of farmland conservation and energy production. Legislation SB100, places California on the road to a 100 percent low-carbon, renewable energy future by 2045. How the state plans to meet this targeted goal remains an open question.

One potential roadblock for agrivoltaics is the Williamson Act of 1965, a statute designed to prevent the leapfrog development of farmland. The law enables local governments to enter into contracts with farmers to keep the land in agricultural production or open space.

Perhaps because of it, California’s farm counties ar slow to change. The Division of Land Resource reports 15,776 acres of farmland converted from agricultural production to solar power between 2014-2016. During that time frame the total number of acres in agricultural production dipped slightly from 31,386,872 to 31,351,190 acres.

Meanwhile, Komineck is blazing a path for his family farm with the help of solar technology.

Storing Sunlight: Arizona’s Largest Utility Plans to Expand Battery Capacity

PHOENIX – Arizona Public Service Co. plans to add hundreds of megawatts of battery storage by 2025 to its solar power plants so customers can keep using solar energy when the sun sets.

Arizona’s largest utility announced last week that a new plan to add 850 megawatts of battery storage and at least 100 megawatts of new solar generation by 2025.

It’s one of the largest battery storage initiatives in the country, which is why U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Friday toured one of APS’s renewable energy facilities an hour’s drive west of Phoenix.

“The holy grail in this whole renewable energy quest is in energy storage,” Perry said in a downpour after the tour.

Perry said Arizona is on the forefront of a national effort in clean energy storage.

“Today (Friday) is a great example of an all-of-the-above energy policy which this country is striving towards,” he said.

Scott Bordenkircher directs technology and innovation at APS. He said battery storage will be developed over the next six years to store solar energy. “To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of about 3 million solar panels or 10,000 electric vehicles.” (Photo by Peter Gong/Cronkite News)

APS Chairman and CEO Don Brandt said on the company’s website that Arizona is a national leader in solar energy.

“The challenge is, no one has figured out how to stop the sun from setting at night,” Brandt said. “As storage technology improves and declines in cost, we will increasingly be able to store the power of the sun cost-effectively to deliver when our customers need it.”

Arizona is known for more than 300 sunny days a year, and power companies have tapped into this renewable source. The state ranks second to California, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, for generating solar energy, but it’s hard to store that power when the sun sets, a time when people often need power the most.

Scott Bordenkircher, director of technology and innovation at APS, said the storage will be developed over the next six years. “To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of about 3 million solar panels or 10,000 electric vehicles.”

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Bordenkircher said the company’s announcement means Arizona will be second only to California in terms of the size of batteries being used.

“Not all of their (California’s) batteries are meant to be coupled with renewable energy sources,” he said. “This is truly targeted at unlocking that renewable energy mix, that clean energy mix that we have in Arizona.”

The batteries are stored in a facility, and stacked on top of each other like building blocks. The storage system gets power from the sun during the day. Then, the energy from the solar panels gets transferred to the batteries. When the sun goes down, battery power activates allowing customers to use solar energy at night.

Patrick Graham, state director of the Nature Conservancy in Arizona, called the initiative an important step in protecting the environment.

“This really is the pathway to moving towards clean energy,” Graham said. “It’s short-term storage, so it’s not going to last for long periods of time. But it’s critical in helping balance out the reliance on renewable energy.”

Barbara Lockwood, vice president of regulations at APS, said bringing hundreds of batteries online will be an investment, but it won’t cost customers more than they already pay for electricity.

“It certainly costs money, but the great news is that energy storage costs have declined to the point where it’s competitive with sources of generation,” Lockwood said.

Arizona is second only to Nevada in solar energy potential, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But in 2016, solar accounted for only about 5 percent of Arizona’s net electricity generation.

APS plans to install six battery systems at existing solar plants in Maricopa County and Yuma by 2020. And more storage and solar power will come online by 2025.

– Video by Lillian Donahue/Cronkite News

From Kaiser to Vail Ski Resorts, Companies Doubled their Wind and Solar in 2018

DENVER – Corporate investments in renewable energy used to be symbolic. A few solar panels here, a small wind farm investment there. But in 2018 some companies became voracious green energy consumers.

Kaiser Permanente’s Denver administrative office is awash with rooftop solar and solar panels on carports.

The arrays were added in 2015, but in 2018 Kaiser wanted to make a bigger dent toward the company’s carbon neutral goal. So it inked a deal to buy 180 megawatts of new wind and solar from sites in Arizona and California. This is a tremendous amount of green power, a magnitude that only interested utilities a decade ago.

“Corporate procurement has really started to drive a lot of the market….[That] supports an incredible amount of jobs for consultants, for engineers, for contractors and construction workers. It’s definitely driving a lot of economic activity,” said Brian McCurdy, founder of Greycliff Advisors LLC, a consultant that represents renewable energy developers, utilities and large corporations.

Across the nation, companies doubled the amount of wind and solar purchase agreements in 2018. One driver was soon to expire federal tax credits. The key driver, however, is investor and customer preference for green energy. Even after President Donald Trump announced plans to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, companies continued to double down on green efforts.

“Are they losing money? Hopefully not,” said Kevin Haley, a program manager at the Business Renewables Center at Rocky Mountain Institute. “These contracts are long term. Many of them are anywhere from 10 to 20 years, and over the lifetime of that contract they are projected to be revenue positive for the company.”

Here’s how these power purchase agreements work: A company like Kaiser agrees to buy green power at a fixed price for several years, typically decades. That energy doesn’t directly power company buildings, it instead goes into the electric grid. Over time, companies can make money through sales of that wholesale power on the market. The ultimate goal is for the revenue to be greater or equal to a company’s overall electric bill.

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Corporate giants like Facebook, Walmart, Microsoft and Apple made big deals in 2018, but now smaller corporate fish have waded into the pond.

“We had Etsy do a deal last year, J.M. Smucker Company that makes jellies and jams,” Haley said. “It’s a great way for them to reduce a lot of carbon all at once.”

Colorado-based Vail Resorts has joined the ranks of small companies as well. It inked a 12-year agreement to buy new wind that will be produced from a Nebraska farm starting in 2020. When the wind farm is operational, the purchased power will offset Vail’s fossil fuel use across North America.

“This is the way that a company that’s geographically diverse can make a significant impact and bring new renewable resources online,” said Kate Wilson, director of sustainability for Vail Resorts.

The ski company won’t talk about how much that’ll cost. They’ve taken other steps though, such as the installation of solar at resorts. Vail has also signed up with Xcel Energy to pay for a solar energy subscription.

That’s one small way utilities are helping companies get more renewables. Xcel’s subscription program, Renewable Connect, sold out in one day.

“That was a pretty good indicator that this 50 megawatt resource, there’s more interest out there beyond that,” said Ryan Matley, product development team lead with Xcel.

The utility wants to launch more subscription programs. Xcel also started to tailor specific projects for bigger clients. In 2018, Xcel got regulatory approval to build a 240 megawatt solar array for EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel in Pueblo. Matley said the project wasn’t driven by climate concerns, but by EVRAZ’s desire for cheap reliable energy.

“As renewable costs have come down, this looks like not just a great sustainability opportunity but a great economic opportunity,” he said.

Ultimately, the future of corporate investments in renewables could be about large-scale production right on site. Boulder-based Black Bear Energy helps commercial real estate owners add large solar arrays to office parks, apartment buildings and industrial sites. As battery technology evolves, CEO Drew Torbin said companies are opting for larger and larger installations.

“If you think about how many buildings don’t have solar and don’t have batteries, the fact that the industry is so new, and that’s a great thing,” said Torbin. “Because we have a long way to go and a lot of benefit we can create.”

Black Bear booked twice as many projects in 2018 compared the year before. As the price of solar continues to drop, Tobin expects 2019 to be its busiest year ever.

Renewable energy proposition defeated in Arizona

PHOENIX – Arizona voters have overhelmingly rejected a proposition that would have required the state’s regulated utilities to get 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030.

The current standard which sets a goal of 15 percent renewable energy from wind and solar by 2025, will remain the benchmark that governs the 16 regulated electricity providers.

Matthew Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, which fought against Prop. 127, said in an email statement Tuesday night, “Arizonans support clean energy, but not costly, politically driven mandates. Arizonans support solar power and renewable technology, but not at the expense of an affordable, reliable energy supply. Arizonans prefer to choose our own energy future rather than have it dictated to us by out-of-state special interests.”

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, which supported Prop. 127, thanked backers for their support in a tweet.

“Together we stood up to the corrupt fossil fuel industry and moved Arizona towards more renewable energy. We sent a message to @apsFYI and their politicians that there’s a price to pay for the corruption of our politics.”

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

Troy Rule, an environmental and sustainability law professor at Arizona State University, said, “The failure of Proposition 127 will be spun by some utilities as a sign that Arizonans don’t value renewable energy.”

In an interview with Fox News, 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.”

In an interview earlier this fall with Cronkite News, Lincoln Davies, a law professor at the University of Utah who studies renewable energy policy, said propositions like Prop. 127 are not unique to Arizona.

“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.

Similar initiatives were on the ballot 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.

The two groups for and against Prop. 127 spent millions of dollars for campaign signs and radio and television ads to get their messages out.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona raised more than $23 million to support Prop. 127, according to Ballotpedia. NextGen Climate Action, an environmental advocacy organization founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer, provided 95 percent of group’s funds.

Arizonans for Affordable Electricity was largely backed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of Arizona Public Service Co., the state’s largest provider of electricity, and raised more than $31 million to oppose Prop. 127, according to Ballotpedia.

Davies said it’s not surprising to see large utility companies spending millions of dollars to oppose mandates such as 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.”

The road to the polls has been mired in controversy. 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 to remove 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.”

In September, Prop. 127 was again the center of debate. 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 involved 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 was not part of the ballot measure itself.

Rule said Prop. 127, even though it was defeated, “excited a base of young people toward renewable energy policy. The result of all of this is advancement of renewable energy policy in the state.”

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

LA program would let renters plug into the benefits, good karma of solar

LOS ANGELES – It’s been hard for most renters to benefit from solar energy. Rooftops are controlled by landlords, who may not be interested in renewable power.

But that could change.

A new Los Angeles Department of Water and Power program called Shared Solar would let renters buy electricity from solar panels installed on government buildings around the city — no rooftop or landlord permission required.

“The solar market has focused on those that have the capital to buy the solar and install it on their residence or on their commercial properties, and renters don’t have the legal rights to do that, or the capital,” said Allison Mannos with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

And because Los Angeles is a city of renters — 63 percent of housing units are rented while just 37 percent are owner-occupied — that means a ton of people have been shut out of the good karma and long-term savings that come with solar power.

It’s not just renter equity; low-income Angelenos have also been shut out, according to Jason Rondeau, manager of strategic development and programs for LA Water and Power. He said the vast majority of solar projects have been installed in higher income areas, such as West LA and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

The Shared Solar program is designed to close that gap by prioritizing low-income Angelenos and renters.

Also, LA Power and Water has a goal of getting 55 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025, and this program will help get the utility closer.

Shared Solar would be available to 13,000 customers beginning in January 2019, but it first must pass the City Council.

So-called “community solar” projects also exist in Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts and several other states. The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Department has held contests to motivate communities to explore such programs.

Source: Department of Energy, Solar Energy Technologies Office

Nine states and Washington, D.C., have enacted policies governing and supporting shared solar projects, according to advocacy group SharedRenewables.org. In at least 10 other states (or parts of states), campaigns are under way to have shared-renewables legislation enacted.

As part of its SunShot initiative, the U.S. Department of Energy also has been looking to boost community solar for some years now, updating its definitive 2010 report on the topic, “A Guide to Community Solar,” in 2012. Further clearing the path, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently introduced a Community Solar Scenario Tool to help communities and developers alike assess the financial viability of potential community projects.

Will it save me money?

Initially, no, but in the long term, yes.

The new solar rate is 1 penny per kilowatt hour more expensive than the current residential rates charged by LA Water and Power. But over time, city water rates will rise, whereas the solar rate will stay the same.

If you don’t make very much money, however, you may be able to qualify for a discounted solar rate. The idea is to make solar cheaper than regular power for low-income Angelenos. But that’s contingent on whether the utility gets state and federal grants to help cover those costs.

Will all my electricity come from solar?

No. You can buy a certain amount of power each month — either 50 or 100 kilowatts — that is guaranteed to come from solar panels. Beyond that, you’re getting the regular mix of power from the grid, and paying the regular rate. But a lot of Water and Power’s regular mix is renewable — 29 percent in 2016.

Solar power will come from two sources: locally and from big solar farms in the desert.

Locally, panels will be installed on city and buildings controlled by the Department of Water and Power. There’s one already going up on a LADWP building in the San Fernando Valley, and the Green Meadows Recreation Center, an LA Recreation and Parks facility in South Los Angeles. Added perk: Electric car chargers will be at each location.

Electricity will also come from big solar farms in the desert because large-scale solar is still more cost effective than from local panels.

How is this different from Green Power?

Green Power is a program where you can choose how much of your electricity comes from renewable sources (including solar, wind, geothermal and hydro) up to 100 percent. The Green Power rate is 3 cents more than the regular electricity rate.

Shared Solar, meanwhile, is entirely solar power. It’s also cheaper than the Green Power rate, and has the potential to save you money over time as Water and Power’s rates rise, unlike Green Power.

Tribally owned solar power plant beats skeptics, set to expand on Navajo Nation

WASHINGTON – Deenise Becenti remembers watching this summer awhile a woman in the Navajo Nation who had been waiting more than 20 years to get electricity in her home flipped the switch to turn on the lights for the first time.

“She had a whole lot of happy tears,” said Becenti, the spokeswoman for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. “It was a very humble day because you knew that she had been waiting for ‘the day’ for a very long time.”

“The day” was made possible by the Kayenta Solar Project, the first large-scale solar farm on the Navajo Nation and the largest tribally owned renewable power plant in the country. The 27.3-megawatt plant, which went on line last summer, now generates enough power for 18,000 homes on Navajo lands.

The path to this moment was not an easy one.

For years, there had been talk about supplying renewable energy to homes on the Navajo Nation, but that’s all it had been – talk. When NTUA General Manager Walter Haase first proposed that the tribe build its own solar-generating plant, there were skeptics.

When Haase began his job at NTUA in 2008, there were about 18,000 homes without electricity. The utility was in the red. It had never owned its own generating facility. And Haase, who is not a member of the tribe, had to gain the trust of the Navajo people and their government.

“They had moved off the nation to cities … because they (cities) had electricity. So now that the … area is connected, they said, ‘OK,’ and have moved back.”

Deenise Becenti, spokeswoman for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority

“We were in the red, and we just had no direction,” before Haase took over, Becenti said. “The leadership was not there, so he was able to completely turn this enterprise around.”

The idea for Kayenta came together in 2014 and the NTUA was able to break ground two years later. It went online in September, 2017. And, just a few months later, in January of 2018, an agreement was reached to double the size of the project, calling it Kayenta II. Construction for the expansion breaks ground at the end of August.

The project created as many as 284 construction jobs in an area with chronically high unemployment – and facing the possible loss of thousands of jobs with the looming closure of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station and the nearby Kayenta Mine that keeps it stocked with coal. Haase said that 85 percent of the workforce on the solar project were of Navajo descent.

“We need folks like Walter who are going to be persistent and say that there is no opportunity that is too difficult to deploy this important technology and all the benefits that come with it,” said Tanuj Deora, chief strategy officer with the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

Deora, whose organization recognized Haase as its Visionary of the Year this summer, said completion of the Kayenta project proves that the Navajo Nation is ready to take on other large-scale renewable energy development.

And Haase said the project has generated more than electricity for the Navajo – by owning and operating the plant, the tribe has gained a new source of revenue.

“It’s significant dollars back to the Navajo Nation government, which needs that to provide self-sustaining … services to their people,” Haase said.

The Kayenta Solar project created as many as 284 construction jobs while it was being built, in an area with chronically high unemployment. It opened last year and plans are already underway for a second phase, with groundbreaking set for later this month. (Photo courtesy Navajo Tribal Utility Authority)

Becenti said that the first phase of the solar project has brought families back together on the reservation.

“They had moved off the nation to cities … because they (cities) had electricity,” Becenti said. “So now that the … area is connected, they said, ‘OK,’ and have moved back.”

Becenti nominated Haase for the SEPA award that honors someone who pursues projects “that promote collaborative, innovative and replicable models for change” and that “significantly advance knowledge of or access to distributed energy resources.”

“I already knew I would submit his name for consideration because he’s brought significant progress to the Navajo Nation,” Becenti said of the award, which was presented last month.

There are still challenges. The number of homes off the grid has improved since Haase started, but still stands at roughly 15,000, Becenti said. Although Kayenta could power up to 18,000 homes, getting them connected to the plant is still a challenge because of the vast distances on the remote reservation.

But Becenti looks to the positives.

“We’re meeting the needs of our people … and certainly meeting the definition for which we were created, which was to meet the growing utility demands of the Navajo Nation,” Becenti said.