This week Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced historic actions by the city's Department of Water and Power (LADWP) that will eliminate its reliance on coal power by no later than 2025.
"This is a great step forward, and I see it as a step toward the more ambitious goal of a coal-free DWP by 2020," says L.A. city councilmen and mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti.
"The era of coal is over. Today we affirm our commitment to make Los Angeles a cleaner, greener, more sustainable city," said Mayor Villaraigosa, in a press release. "By divesting from coal and investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, we reduce our carbon footprint and set a precedent for the national power market."
The plan envisions clean energy and efficiency first, with natural gas fitting in as needed.
Getting off coal power will reduce LADWP carbon emissions by 59 percent and citywide emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels. Los Angeles has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 28 percent below 1990 levels, which is more than any other major U.S. city and four times what the Kyoto Protocol requires.
"A clean-energy powered Los Angeles will show how much we stand to gain by leaving coal behind—from creating good jobs to reducing the severity of climate disruption," said Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, in a press release.
Evan Gillespie, LA Beyond Coal campaigner, elaborates to TakePart on LADWP's "thoughtful and aggressive plan that any utility in the country can emulate. I don't know of another major utility in the country moving this fast. DWP will first go to energy efficiency. Then, when the transition off coal gets closer in five to seven years, they'll decide whether to replace the coal with a natural gas plant, or with renewables. There's a huge opportunity to jump over natural gas entirely and go straight to renewables. It's a philosophical sea change."
Next up: sunny Nevada, with its polluting Reid Gardner plant just outside Las Vegas, and the smaller California utilities that still rely on Arizona coal.
Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles city councilmember and mayoral candidate, tells TakePart: "We've come a long way since I led the effort to get DWP out of the Mohave coal plant in Nevada and into a California wind farm more than a decade ago. This is a great step forward, and I see it as a step toward the more ambitious goal of a coal-free DWP by 2020. The faster we take DWP off of coal, the faster we can expand solar and other local, clean sources of power, helping our environment and making L.A. a center for clean energy innovation and jobs. I'm proud to have helped create the the nation's widest-reaching green building ordinance and L.A.'s nation-leading solar feed-in-tarriff program, local programs we can use to reduce coal energy use now."
As the largest municipal-owned utility in the nation, the LADWP is uniquely positioned to lead in clean energy.
Since Villaraigosa took office, the utility has quadrupled its use of energy from renewable sources, piloted the largest big-city solar feed-in-tariff program, and doubled investments in energy efficiency.
However, the LADWP still receives 39 percent of its energy from two coal-fired power plants: the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) in Arizona and the Intermountain Power Project (IPP) in Utah. Tuesday' announcement divests LADWP of its interest in the Navajo plant and retires the Utah coal project completely.
The LADWP's Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved an amendment to its contract with IPP, transforming the power supply delivered to Southern California utilities from the plant to a smaller natural gas plant that complies with California emission standards.
The smaller plant will allow the LADWP and the other local municipal customers to develop more renewable energy and bring it to Southern California along existing transmission lines, which already carry 400 megawatts of renewable energy to Los Angeles from Utah. The transition will begin no later than 2020 and be completed no later than 2025.
Meanwhile, representatives of LADWP and Salt River Project have reached sufficient progress on the principal terms to sell LADWP's 21 percent stake in Arizona's Navajo Generating Station to move forward to negotiate a definitive agreement that would end L.A.'s use of coal-fired power from the plant by the end of 2015.
"Mayor Villaraigosa's decision to end Los Angeles' reliance on dirty coal and guide the city to a more sustainable future is a bold step on the path towards solving the climate crisis," said former Vice President Al Gore, in a press release. "This courageous action should serve as an example to leaders all across our country; we have the tools at hand, it's time to act.” Gore will be in Los Angeles March 22 to celebrate the announcement.
RL Miller is a climate blogger; on the executive board of the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus; editor of twitter-based policy news feeds for House Progressive Caucus and others, @PCNEnvironment and @PCNNatRes; speaker at Netroots Nation; and, in spare time, a practitioner of law and keeper of chickens. TakePart.com