Speaking to municipal workers, advocates and the press Tuesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that Los Angeles will not spend $5 billion to rebuild three natural-gas generating plants on its coast. Instead, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will phase out the gas plants over the next decade and invest in the development of renewable energy alternatives.
Amid cheering from supporters and standing beside city leaders, Garcetti framed the decision as an effort to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, and to improve the local air quality of Los Angeles’ neighborhoods while generating jobs in the city.
“This is what a Green New Deal looks like,” Garcetti said. “At the local level, we do what is right with a great utility owned by the people of Los Angeles, one that has made history and built this town, and that is now adjusting to the times. Now, it's going to a place of leadership where we can show the world and the rest of this country what it means to not only be able to have the power that we need to sustain our life, but to do it in a way that doesn't kill life on earth.”
The announcement is an effort to move Los Angeles forward on divesting from carbon power, and it mirrors a moment in 2013 when Garcetti’s predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, announced that LADWP would divest from coal generation (shortly afterward, the city pulled out of a coal plant in Arizona and is on track to quit buying coal power by 2025).
“The era of coal is over,” Villaraigosa said at the time.
On Tuesday, Garcetti said: “This is the beginning of the end of natural gas,”
“We are focusing our attention, our resources, to make sure we have a 100 percent renewable energy,” Garcetti said. “We have 100 percent renewable energy and a green reliable and affordable rate for the future. This is a huge step in our commitment to zero emissions.”
LADWP explores viable pathways
Garcetti’s announcement did not offer any specifics on how the generating capacity will be replaced or how much it will cost to do so, and the final plans won’t be ready anytime soon. But in recent months, consultants from Navigant and WorleyParsons presented officials at LADWP with potential alternatives for replacing the 1,661 megawatts of generating capacity provided by the gas units.
Officials reviewed two viable paths, both of which call for adding 1,800 megawatts of energy storage. One plan includes the construction of hundreds of megawatts of large-scale generating capacity from solar, wind and geothermal power. The other relied mostly on new solar and energy efficiency upgrades, with a small percentage of distributed energy resources.
Mel Levine, president of the LADWP board, said the decision is the result of a “team effort,” adding that the group of five commissioners “have worked together...to try to meet the challenges in water and power. And this is a prime example of the collaborative work that the commission has done in the past. The commission will be going to meet the goals that are outlined today.”
The mayor appoints all five board members of the LADWP and is also responsible for the hiring and firing of the general manager. For these reasons, the mayor has significant power over LADWP policy.
Environmental groups, which were on hand and streaming the proceedings online, have for months pushed the leaders of LADWP, the largest municipal utility in the U.S., to divest from the three gas-fired power plants. They’ve made the campaign central to their call for climate mitigation efforts and cleaner air in Los Angeles.
“This is a huge deal,” said Alexandra Nagy, a senior organizer with Food & Water Watch. “We've been pushing for to L.A. to commit to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, and a big hurdle for that in our eyes was this plan to invest in rebuilding these gas plants on the coast.”
All eyes on energy storage
LADWP had allocated $5 billion to upgrade the Haynes, Harbor and Scattergood gas plants along the coast, the mayor's office confirmed, in order to meet the requirements of a 2010 law that requires California’s coastal power plants to stop using ocean water for cooling. Instead, the agency will forgo those payments. It will still procure power from the plants, but the mayor indicated a desire to invest in energy storage and renewable generation.
“We have to find what sort of batteries work,” Garcetti said. “We are looking at, potentially, the Hoover Dam, to pump water backup and use that as a water battery. We're looking at air technology. We're looking at...the chemical batteries that exist today and hydrogen. [...] All of those are going to be very important."
"Unfortunately, the wind and the sun aren't 24/7; gas plants and coal plants can be," he added. "But we will find a way to make this happen, not because we have a choice, but because we don't have a choice.”
Garcetti does not expect any service interruptions when the plants retire: Scattergood in 2024, and Haynes and Harbor by 2029. The three gas units represent 38 percent of the city's current natural-gas portfolio, but just 2 percent of the city's generating portfolio, according to the mayor.
"People are saying, 'What are you going to replace them with?'" said Garcetti. "We've already done the replacing."
Additionally, LADWP will pause its long-term procurement planning process, known as the Strategic Long-Term Resource Plan, while the National Renewable Energy Lab conducts a city-commissioned study to determine how the city can meet all of its power needs with 100 percent renewable energy.
“It is time to wean ourselves off of carbon-based energy,” Garcetti said. “Period.”
*This story has been updated