Voters in Los Angeles on Tuesday will to get to vote on a program that has been called alternately as a solar power booster and a power grab for the local utility and City Council.
There has been no shortage of passionate debates about Measure B., which would require the Los Angles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to install 400 megawatts worth of solar panels on commercial and institutional rooftops and other spaces within the LA basin by 2014.
Supporters say the proposal would create new jobs and greatly boost the city's use of solar energy, a good thing considering that half of the city's electricity production comes from coal-fired power plants.
Opponents say the proposal is a shrewd attempt to shut out private solar energy installers and transfer an oversight authority of the program from a five-member commission to the City Council.
The sticking point is the ballot language that would give LADWP the authority to "install, operate, maintain and repair and/or
oversee the installation, operation, maintenance and repair of solar power installations within the City and on City-owned airports." Banks and other investors can owned some of the projects by providing financing and taking advantage of tax breaks, but the LADWP would still be the one in charge of installing, operating and maintaining the systems.
The utility worker's union supports Measure B, so does Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The California League of Conservation Voters said Measure B would speed up solar energy developments in the city, which is generating 13 megawatts of solar power – less than 1 percent of the city's electricity supply. The Sierra Club also supports the measure.
The California Solar Energy Industries Association takes no position on the measure, though it voices concerns about the measure's impact on private solar installers, costs to ratepayers and other issues on its Website. Adam Browning, executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative, raised similar concerns in an opinion piece, questioning the LADWP's ability to provide cheaper solar power than private power plant developers that have been building projects to sell power to utilities up and down the state.
The Los Angeles Times's editorial board urged voters to say no to Measure B, saying the city can and has been working on efforts to generate 900 megawatts worth of solar energy without seeking voters' approval. So why do so now?
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