This week, we won a major victory when the Los Angeles City Council approved the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s plan to invest in clean energy, rather than continue to ship customer’s money out of state to buy coal (LA shipped $500 million out of state last year alone). This move will create more than 5,000 jobs in energy efficiency and rooftop solar and boost the local economy. At a time when so many cities are struggling with crumbling infrastructure and stretched budgets, it is heartening to see LA chart a bold new course in order to meet its energy needs.

The details of the plan are this: a small rate increase for LADWP customers will

  • Increase the city’s energy efficiency budget by 150%;
  • Implement nation’s largest solar power cash back program (also known as a feed-in tariff) that will increase solar panel installations and create local jobs; and
  • Fund the city’s transition to replace with clean energy the power it was getting from the dirty Navajo Generation Station coal plant in Arizona.

This is one of the biggest commitments any American city has made to move beyond coal and replace it with clean energy, and the Sierra Club applauds the LA City Council, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LADWP, and local community members for their leadership. At his 2009 inauguration, Mayor Villaraigosa pledged to move LA beyond coal by 2020, and this week’s city council vote was a big step in that direction.

“This shift in funding priorities is necessary to move the city beyond coal, which has costs that affect not only our wallets, but also our health and the environment,” says Evan Gillespie, a representative for the Beyond Coal campaign in L.A.

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“We have to look at this like this: the cost of coal is rising and we will all be spending money on our city-s power anyway — would you rather send your money out of state to buy increasingly expensive dirty coal, or invest in cost-effective clean energy that will create local jobs?”

One such example of how Los Angeles is creating jobs through the transition from coal is the RePower LA program, an innovative campaign to rethink how Los Angeles reduces energy use being spear-headed by IBEW Local 18 and partners like the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and Sierra Club. The program will train 750 new workers at IBEW Local 18 and prepare them for good careers in the green economy. The new energy efficiency program is already making a huge difference for Angelenos like LJ Davis, a utility pre-craft trainee with IBEW Local 18, who was in the first class of trainees.

“I have been in the program for approximately 17 months,” she said, “and before then I was one of those unemployed people for seven years. So this has really been a very true blessing for me. And I have learned so much.”

Here’s a very short video about the energy efficiency program.

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“We’re thrilled that the Department is investing in energy efficiency programs that will help tens of thousands of low income and small business customers who are struggling right now and that will create thousands of jobs, including entry level positions that will lead to real careers,” said Jessica Goodheart of LAANE.

Efforts like RePower LA and the new funding make it possible for LADWP to replace its share of Navajo Generating Station coal power with clean energy by 2015. The bigger, bolder energy efficiency RePower LA program anchors the transition, but LADWP plans on building out 650MW of solar, 490MW of wind, and 130MW of geothermal to help replace dirty coal too.

“All this is good news for Angelenos, who have taken stand after stand for clean energy over the years and have a publicly-owned utility whose policies are slowly starting to reflect the interests of the vast majority of the public, who overwhelmingly support clean energy over dirty coal,” says Evan.

Evan and L.A. residents continue to work on getting LADWP to end its stake in Utah’s Intermountain Power Project — a 1,800 megawatt coal plant as well.

But this week’s victory is worth celebrating. It’s a win for clean energy, the local economy, and our environment.

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