Debate Flares Over Solar Panels Measure

LOS ANGELES -- A proposal to generate 400 megawatts of power by 2014 through the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of Los Angeles buildings was placed on the March ballot to encourage public debate, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Tuesday.

Measure B is part of the mayor's plan to meet 10 percent of the city's energy needs with solar sources by 2020. It is one-third of the city's Solar LA plan, but the only component to appear on the March 3 ballot.

"It's on the ballot because it is without question a bold initiative. It is one that we knew could be controversial for some and so we thought it was important to have the public debate around this issue and develop a public consensus around it," Villaraigosa said during a teleconference with reporters.

The Department of Water and Power could install the solar panels without voter approval. Asked what the city will do if voters do not support Measure B, Villaraigosa said, "Failure is not an option."

"Our hope is that we're going to be able to convince the voters of this city that this makes a lot of sense," he said.

Villaraigosa's comments came one day after the release of a consultant's report putting the likely cost of Measure B at $1.3 billion. With tax credits, that figure could drop to $967 million, translating into a 1 percent -- about $1 per month -- increase for the average Angeleno.

The Huron Consulting Group performed 10,000 simulations based on a series of factors, including the price of materials, installation and maintenance, and found the price of the project could fluctuation between $1.1 billion and $1.6 billion before tax credits.


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A separate report done by PA Consulting last fall found the project could cost as much as $3.6 billion without tax credits, which can only be obtained by partnering with a private organization. Consultants warned that material shortages would worsen under the proposal, which was also determined to be "extremely risky."

A memo from the city's Chief Legislative Analyst said that report was completed before significant changes were made to the ballot language, included a modified time frame for installing panels.

The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that weeks after PA Consulting's findings were made public, an analyst for the company apologized to the DWP's general manager, apparently concerned that the comments could cause it to lose a city contract.

Measure B is supported by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, Howard Berman, D-Van Nuys, and Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, and environmental and health organizations.

DWP is also pursuing other sources of renewable energy to meet Villaraigosa's goal of providing 20 percent of the city's energy through alternative resources by 2010.

Utility officials announced Tuesday the city has signed an agreement with Mexican power agency Comision Federal de Electricidad to receive as much as 100 megawatts of geothermal power per month for the next three years.

In January, the CFE's geothermal power accounted for 22 percent of DWP's renewable energy and 2 percent of its total energy.

DWP is purchasing geothermal power at a cost of 4.5 cents to 5 cents per kilowatt hour, which is slightly more expensive than coal.

"We must focus our energy on green power, set our sights on greener skies, renew our commitment to renewable sources and usher in a new era of sustainability for our children and our grandchildren," Villaraigosa said.

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