Solar Plan Fails to Receive Sunny Reception

A solar plan that will be put before Los Angeles voters next month received a thumbs-down Thursday from City Controller Laura
Chick, whose office released a comprehensive study on the future of the Department of Water and Power.

The Industrial, Economic and Administrative Survey of the DWP, which the city charter mandates be completed every five years, was authored by PA Consulting Group, which made news earlier this week when its report on the solar plan, known as Measure B, was leaked to media outlets.

The PA Consulting report on Measure B was completed last fall over a four-day period to provide Los Angeles City Council members with additional information before the panel decided to put the plan on the March ballot.

PA Consulting found the solar project could cost as much as $3.6 billion without tax credits, and consultants warned that Measure B was "extremely risky."

"I will be voting no on Measure B because I think the entire process on how it ended up on the ballot stinks, and I don't think it has been done in an open and understandable, much less thoughtful, way," Chick said. "It is time to have a Department of Water and Power that's not run by political projects and initiatives but is run by good management and good business in the best interest of the public, and then we can become a role model for the nation and the world in terms of environmental goals," she said.

Measure B would allow the DWP to install enough rooftop solar panels to generate 400 megawatts of power by 2014. It makes up one-third of the city's Solar LA plan, but the only component to appear on the March 3 ballot.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said the proposal was placed before voters to encourage debate. Measure B is backed by Working Californians, a nonprofit advocacy group co-chaired by Brian D'Arcy, head of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents DWP employees.

The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that after PA Consulting's findings were made public, analyst Andrew Rea apologized to the DWP's general manager.

Rea said Thursday he emailed David Nahai to apologize that the confidential findings were leaked, but the email "never says we apologize for any of the work we did."

"Our principle recommendation was more study, more planning and more analysis needs to be done, and we still believe that's absolutely the right thing," Rea said, noting that a number of uncertainties, such as technology and the cost of solar, make Measure B a risk.

A separate report by Huron Consulting Group found the solar plan would cost between $1 billion and $1.6 billion before tax credits, translating into a 1 percent -- $1 per month -- increase on the average Angeleno's bill.

The study released Thursday morning called on DWP to develop a long-term vision for the utility that allows the Board of Water and Power Commissioners to oversee, rather than micromanage, the department.

"PA believes that the department is at a transformational point in its history. It faces a number of major challenges that require urgent attention in an extremely short time," Rea said.

A spokesman for the DWP had no immediate comment on the study.

Among the challenges facing DWP are investing in renewable energy sources, divesting its coal resources as the commodity price drops, upgrading technology systems, and hiring skilled and experienced workers as utility employees reach retirement age.

About 90 percent of the recommendations made in the 2002 IEA study are still relevant, but progress has been made on less than a quarter, according to the consultants.

One reason for the slow pace is changes in leadership. Since 1993, the DWP has had 24 commissioners and 11 general managers.

"It's been described to us in the interviews as a revolving door job," Rea said of the general manager position. "It's very difficult to develop a strategic plan, execute on that strategic plan and then track performance if you don't have consistency in management."

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