LOS ANGELES (CN) – Ending an earlier stalemate, Los Angeles utility directors approved a contract Tuesday to bring solar power to the city for the next 25 years.
If approved by the LA City Council, the solar project would supply a large dose of renewable energy to the city and break new ground for the utility sector in the United States.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power board approved the agreement to purchase solar energy from a not-yet built Kern County-based solar facility, locking in the city’s purchase price at just under $20 per megawatt-hour.
The agreement faces a ticking-clock scenario for construction to begin this year or the city could lose out on the full benefit of a federal investment tax credit.
The Eland project from 8minute Solar Energy will generate 400 megawatts when completed in 2023 and provide an additional four hours of electricity to the grid at night thanks to storage batteries.
Across the country, policy proposals centered around climate change have cropped up in the wake of the national Green New Deal blueprint proposed by the new crop of Democrats in Congress.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced this spring the city would be carbon neutral by 2050 while meeting strict milestones, like reaching 80% of renewable energy supply and creating 300,000 green jobs by 2036.
Last month, the utility commissioners could not move the solar contract across the finish line, as only two commissioners voted yes. Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill voted against the agreement over concerns related to a labor agreement with the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The Los Angeles Times reported the union might have been upset by the hiring of out-of-state workers to build the solar facility.
But according to LADWP general manager Martin Adams, there is a project labor agreement from five different labor unions to ensure that local employees will work on the project. An email and phone call to IBEW Local 18 for comment were not returned by press time.
USC Center for Sustainability Solutions director Antonio Bento said LA’s big buy-in to solar signals to the rest of the industry that there is incentive to invest in new technologies and research.
Ultimately, the utility will have to contend with the major question after the Eland facility is complete: Can it deliver at the scale it promises while remaining financially feasible?
Solar battery storage costs are expected to go down over time – that’s what the utility is hoping for – but the logistics of that have yet to be proven on this magnitude, Bento said in an interview.
“How much can we really store? During times when we’re not capturing solar power. It’s a logistics bottleneck. It’s a financial bottleneck,” said Bento. “Still, I think that policy stability from (LADWP) and signal to the industry is the biggest benefit.”
After the commissioners approved the contract, dozens of environmental advocates huddled outside the chambers and celebrated.
Ash Rosas, 17-year-old member of the environmental group Sunrise Movement, said the solar project meets in the middle of the organization’s main criteria: creating green jobs and reducing the carbon footprint.
“The climate crisis is something that plagues my generation. Decarbonization, justice and jobs are important for us,” Rosas said.