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We Cannot Risk Garcetti's Leap of Faith

LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti’s hastily called press conference (photo above)  on Tuesday morning, February 12, was essentially a pep rally for the Los Angeles New Green Deal team where he announced the depowering / phase out of the Department of Water and Power’s three coastal natural gas power plants that are a major source of reliable electricity for the City of Los Angeles. 

This sudden announcement is a radical departure from the earlier plan to eliminate sea water as a coolant and to repower these three facilities, Scattergood, Haynes, and Harbor, with more fuel-efficient combined cycle power plants by 2029, a negotiated deadline between the State and DWP.  

This new fossil free plan is also a significant departure from the recommendations of a year-long study by an independent consultant that would have eliminated a significant amount of natural gas fired power by relying on solar and wind renewables, energy efficiency and demand response programs, and energy storage.  These recommendations that were supported by the DWP Power System were presented to the DWP Board of Commissioners on November 27. 

The Garcetti plan not to repower the three coast natural gas power plants was not vetted by the Department’s Power System.  Rather, it was a last minute political decision.  No consideration was given to the reliability of the DWP’s Power System and to the impact on the Department’s ratepayers who are already experiencing much higher bills than anticipated in the last rate case. 

While Garcetti mentioned lower rates and bills and huge savings from his plan, this campaign like promise is pure baloney.  According to the independent consultant’s report, the present value of the Garcetti plan will be $4 to $5 billion more than the original plan to repower Scattergood, Haynes, and Harbor.  This amount is greater than the annual revenue of the Power System’s revenue of $3.8 billion.  So just imagine what this will do to our DWP bill. 

As for the claim of lower rates and bills, when was the last time your DWP bill was lower! 

There are also serious concerns about the future reliability of the Power System given the elimination of coal and natural gas, the main fuels powering the base load, and the increased demand for electricity, especially for emission free electric vehicles.  The Port of Los Angeles and LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) are also demanding more electricity as these proprietary departments aim to lower their emission of greenhouse gas. 

The elimination of fossil fuels will require the development of renewable resources, primarily wind and utility scale solar.  This will involve considerable expense as well as significant investments in existing and new transmission lines that will deliver power to the City.  

Since the sun does not shine at night, the Department will need to develop massive amounts of very expensive energy storage, whether it be lithium batteries, compressed air, or pumped hydro storage (such as the $3 billion Hoover Dam project). 

At the same time, DWP will need to modernize its grid and its communication systems to be able to integrate smart meters into Power System as well as manage thousands of residential and industrial roof top solar systems that are feeding power into the grid.  The Department will also need to improve its demand response and energy efficiency programs which also rely on an improved power grid.  

There is also the question of whether DWP has the engineering staff, the organizational and administrative capabilities, and the trained workforce to implement Garcetti’s plan in a timely and economical manner while keeping our lights on, especially during hot summer days.  

While Garcetti said that the LAUSD / UTLA settlement required a “leap of faith,” this is a risk that DWP cannot afford to take and is not an appropriate response to his plan to depower the Department’s gas fired power plants.  Without reliable power, the economy will tank.  

As a first step, it would be appreciated if the DWP and its politically appointed commissioners would provide us with some basic information about Garcetti’s plan, even if they are preliminary thoughts and estimates.  

Before proceeding, we need a detailed plan, developed by the Department and its independent consultants, approved by State and Federal regulators, reviewed by the Ratepayers Advocate, and available to the Ratepayers, that focuses on reliability and rates as well as the environment. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw