LADWP Seeks to Wean Its Dependence on Coal

Customers' rates will likely increase, officials say, emphasizing that the move is akin to eliminating emissions from 6 million cars.

By Kim Baldonado and Samantha Tata
|  Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013  |  Updated 7:29 AM PDT
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Customers' rates will likely increase, officials say, emphasizing that the move is akin to eliminating emissions from 6 million cars. Kim Baldonado reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on March 19, 2013.

Customers' rates will likely increase, officials say, emphasizing that the move is akin to eliminating emissions from 6 million cars. Kim Baldonado reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on March 19, 2013.

In a city that gets nearly 40 percent of its power from coal, a Los Angeles utility is taking steps to wean its dependence on the fossil fuel by the middle of the next decade.

"The move we are taking in this change is the most dramatic move of any city in the U.S.," said Ronald O. Nichols, general manager of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

By 2025, LA plans to eliminate its dependence on coal-fired plants in Utah and Arizona.

On Tuesday, the utility voted to amend its contract with Utah-based Intermountain Power Project to use its natural gas plant instead. The move still needs approval from City Council.

Another agreement in the works to sell off LADWP's stake in the Arizona plant will make the utility coal-free by 2025.

That's five years later than a promise by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who in 2009 predicted a coal-free Los Angeles in 2020.

Still, officials called the move to eliminate coal plants that emit the population equivalent of some 6 million cars "a tremendous service to clean air and the environment."

The Sierra Club's Evan Gillespie has been working toward this day for 4 years.

"It's such a monumental task to take almost half of your power and replace it with clean energy over such a short time period," Gillespie said. "Just the engineering feat is staggering and the environmental accomplishment is monumental."

Existing transmission lines will be used to carry natural gas and wind power. LADWP is also expanding its solar energy program.

"All of these things have a cost, all of these things have extraordinary environmental benefit," Nichols said. "Collectively, yes, our rates will go up a bit more than in the past, but we'll still continue to be lower than other major utilities."

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