Sierra Club stories from the front lines

Big Win For Energy Efficiency in Los Angeles

Los-AngelesPhoto by Thomas Pintaric, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With the help of some amazing coalition work in Los Angeles over the past few years, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) approved a major new energy-efficiency mandate for the utility. The new savings targets put LADWP among the leading utilities in the nation, and Los Angeles among the leading cities, when it comes to energy savings. Serious thanks are in order to Mayor Garcetti, the LADWP board members, and the excellent LADWP Energy Efficiency Department (helmed by David Jacot).

Here's the nitty gritty: Every California utility is required to provide a 10-year energy savings target to the California Energy Commission. State legislation requires that utilities save at least one percent of total sales each year. Los Angeles' previous commitment was exactly that: one percent every year for the ten years between 2011 and 2020.

On August 5, the utility's board unanimously approved a new plan which would kick our energy-efficiency programs into high gear and ensure that the utility saves 15 percent by 2020 instead -- a 50 percent increase over the last program. Below, Frank Alvarez, an organizer with RePower LA, and coalition members at the Aug. 5 hearing in front of LADWP's board of commissioners. The Sierra Club is a charter member of the RePower LA coalition.

Frank-Alvarez-LADPW-hearing

When fully up and running, LADWP will save over two percent of its annual energy use and has plans to invest upwards of one billion dollars on energy saving projects across the city. The utility has come a long way over the last five years, from the time when Los Angeles was one of the worst-performing utilities in the state, to being the clear leader of the pack.

"We've long known that our utility has the potential to perform as well or better than the best utilities in the nation on energy efficiency," said Evan Gillespie, western region deputy director for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "To get there, we needed the city to commit to saving at least two percent annually and allocate sufficient funding to do so. We also knew that we had to engage the public in new ways and ensure that every single customer in the city -- from apartment dwellers to industrial facilities, to small business and schools -- could benefit with programs tailored to their needs."

Key to all of this work has been a partnership between the city and the public. In 2012, LADWP adopted guiding principles that have informed its project development ever since. The adopted principles include commitments to serving low-income communities, prioritizing programs that spur job development, transparency, and collaboration with community-based organizations. The principles spurred expanded programs targeting small businesses, low-income homeowners, renters, and more while providing grants to community-based organizations to help spread the word about opportunities for customers to reduce their energy use and lower their bills.

All of this work has paid off; over the last two years the city has doubled spending on efficiency and seen its energy savings double as well. You can read about these victories in this Sierra magazine article from late 2013, Repower LA.

Then the big news came last week with the LADPW commissioners hearing testimony from a packed room with people from all over the city calling for better standards for the city. Below, a young woman from Venice YouthBuild gives testimony at the hearing in favor of energy efficiency.

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Jasmin Vargas, Beyond Coal organizer in L.A., helped translate the testimonies of two Spanish speakers before the LADWP, and said more than 20 organizations were represented.

"When our coalitions win, we all win," said Vargas. "We came together last Tuesday with labor groups, environmentalists, youth groups, and social justice organizations with a united message: 'equity, good jobs and climate action now!'"

Gillespie said LADWP board members were blown away by how much support increasing the energy-efficiency mandate had.

"During the hearing, LADWP board president and retired congressman Mel Levine noted he'd never seen so many people at a LADWP meeting," said Gillespie. "He praised the coalition for the breadth and depth of support for energy efficiency. As he moved to open the vote, he jokingly dared his fellow commissioners to vote no, and the motion passed unanimously!"

Vargas says the next steps are to work with communities to increase participation in the wide array of programs offered by LADWP, while making sure that efficiency is utilized to ease the transition away from the city's dirty coal plants. While the City approved the transition away from coal last year, the utility is still crafting its replacement strategy.

Learn more about what the Sierra Club is doing to move Los Angeles beyond coal.