Reform Measure Loses: What Now for the DWP?

EASTSIDER-Hats off to my friends in the labor movement, particularly AFSCME and SEIU -- they managed to block DWP Reform Measure RRR, even though most everything else passed in the LA City Special Municipal Election. Life should get interesting, now that RRR is gone. As a result, the LA City Council and the Mayor own the DWP, no change, and nowhere to hide. 

I think this is big news, especially when you look at the line up for the LA City primary election arriving around the corner on March 7, 2017. The Mayor, the City Controller, the City Attorney, as well as a majority of the City Council Districts: 1,3,5,7,9,11,13, and 15. Too bad it doesn’t look like Mayor Eric Garcetti has any serious competition. 

And in Other DWP News. 

Last Saturday, November 5, there was an information packed meeting of the DWP Committee held at DWP Headquarters. The issues covered were somewhere between opaque and mind-numbing, but you have to remember that these innocent sounding initiatives are going to determine what our rates are going to be and how we get there from here. So it’s time for us to start paying attention to two different “I have no idea what they mean” concepts: Equity Metrics and the Integrated Resources Plan. 

The other discussion item, questionable leases of office space for the DWP in City owned properties, we can figure out all too well. 

Equity Metrics. 

This initiative is a fancy way of saying that the DWP will be setting up a big database to track how all the neighborhoods are currently treated by DWP and how they can or should all be treated equally. Or not. 

Board of DWP Commissioners Vice-President William W. Funderburk, Jr. gave the presentation and answered questions. I will have to admit to being remiss in never paying much attention to the DWP Board, since they are all appointed by the Mayor and dare not bite the hand that feeds them. So this was all new to me. And useful. 

Mr. Funderburk is an interesting guy in that he is both an engineer and an environmental lawyer. He was even on a Neighborhood Council (Greater Wilshire), and as you can imagine with this background, his appointment letter (CF 13-1074) indicates that there are numerous opportunities for him to have a statutory conflict of interest in matters before the Commissioners. 

For right now, the Equity Metrics Initiative consists largely of a power point presentation, although it seems that the blanks are going to be filled in quite soon. Here’s what the language in DWP’s press release describing the Initiative talks about -- performance metrics over “reliable delivery of water and power service, equal access to energy efficiency, conservation and assistance programs, small business economic development for competition in LADWP contracts of goods and services, and equal access to LADWP employment opportunities.” 

We’ll see how it all plays out. On its face, this is one of those soft and fuzzy concepts that imply equal treatment of all ratepayers. My personal observation is that, given enough data, you can prove darn near anything you want to and we all know who appoints the DWP Board of Commissioners. 

Like, who has the least reliable power in town? Pacific Palisades. And that means? 

Stay tuned, because the politics of this one are going to be fascinating. 

Figueroa Street Plaza’s DWP Lease.

And speaking of the DWP Board of Commissioners, here is fuel for my concerns over how things really work. According to my pal Jack Humphreville, this deal has stunk from the beginning and he has written a number of fairly incendiary articles on the self dealing, double dealing of our Mayor and City Council, as they use the DWP to shift LA City costs onto the DWP ratepayers. 

Jack’s latest article is a doozy, with the spiffy headline, “DWP Fig Plaza Deal: DWP Board Caves, Mayor Goes Back to Basics, Ratepayers Screwed ... Again.” The title says it all, and chronicles the 4-1 vote of the Commissioners to ok a 10-year, $41 million deal for office space at Figueroa Plaza, which just happens to be owned by -- you guessed it -- the City of Los Angeles.

I only hope that Commissioner Christina Noonan has made enough money as a real estate professional that she doesn’t need the gig. If history is a guide, our notoriously thin-skinned Mayor Eric Garcetti does tend to micro-manage how “his” appointees vote. And the Equity Metrics and Integrated Resources Plan involve literally billions of dollars. 

Integrated Resources Plan.

Speaking of opaque, how many of us have a clue what the Integrated Resources Plan actually is? That is, aside from our own DWP guru, Tony Wilkinson, Chair of the DWP MOU Committee. 

So ok. An Integrated Resources Plan is really a fancy way of saying how DWP plans to handle long term power management, and get from its current mix of non-renewable and renewable energy resources to some public policy driven goal within the next 20 years. Whew! 

While the plan may sound innocuous or mushy to you and me, it is a very big deal and has far reaching impacts on how much ratepayers will be paying to achieve these goals. 

Speaking of Tony Wilkinson, he has a very nice article at EmpowerLA, about all of these matters, and you can find it here.  

Essentially, the plan is a constantly moving target, and gets revised every two years. The current 2015 Plan has us going from 20% renewable energy to 50% renewable energy by the year 2030 -- mostly by eliminating coal and substituting renewable such as solar, wind and geothermal. As we speak, the Department is in the process of developing its 2017 Plan with even more ambitious goals. You can find the DWP website on the IRP here

While the title of IRP seems innocuous, the downside of all these grandiose plans is that they are expensive! Coal and nuclear may be “dirty,” but they are 24/7 reliable and relatively cheap. Further, most of the renewables like wind and solar can’t provide power on a 24/7 basis, which is what we need. And the reason that these 20-year plans are important is that the Department has to expend billions and billions of dollars on capital projects in order to get there from here. 

Those projects take decades to implement, and simply can’t be changed at will to suit the whim of elected officials. I mention this because our sound bite City Council has grandly “requested” that the DWP look into what investments they would have to make in order to get to 100% Renewable energy. Really. They fail to realize that their political posturing doesn’t simply happen by a stroke of the pen. Remember this next March. 

Just as a mini-example of what we’re talking about, the Ratepayers Advocate has recently released an analysis of the DWP’s proposal for a rooftop utility-built and owned solar Pilot Program. 

While this is a relatively minor project, it reveals oodles about the renewable energy game. Reading between the lines, this project would probably cost something like two to four times what it would cost to simply go out and purchase solar. Multiply this by a 20-year plan. 

The Takeaway. 

My point is simply this -- feel good green energy plans can break the bank in a heartbeat if we are not very, very careful. All of these technical initiatives make sense from a planning standpoint, but the devil is in the details, and politicians are absolute masters at twisting data to support whatever half-baked scheme they are interested in at the moment. Witness the recent 4-1 giveaway over Figueroa Street office space.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)