Glendale to Hike Residential Utility Rates by 54% to Help Pay for New Fossil Fuels

For years, hundreds of Glendale residents have repeatedly shown up to public town halls and their City Council to demand the City commit to 100% clean energy and ditch plans to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into the new polluting Grayson gas plant. Unfortunately, their utility, Glendale Water & Power (GWP), misled the City Council into voting for the new plant, and now the Council is poised to approve an astronomical 54% rate increase for residents over the next couple years. Unfortunately, the rate increase will only cover a portion of necessary distribution grid upgrades to accommodate more climate-friendly electric appliances and electric vehicle charging, while the biggest chunk will go to pay for dirty energy, despite GWP’s previous assurances that the gas plant would not raise rates. 

Over the last few months, GWP communicated to ratepayers that the rate increase was necessary for clean energy and “greening” its grid without disclosing that most of the rate increase is due to its investment in fossil fuels. GWP has even insinuated that environmental activists were in part responsible for the rate hike, despite their encouragement of the utility to divert the funds away from Grayson toward proven, local clean energy solutions like energy efficiency, demand response, and solar and storage instead. In fact, through unrelenting advocacy, environmentalists significantly reduced the cost of the new Grayson gas plant, which was originally slated to be 80% bigger.

The City of Glendale still has a chance to mitigate future shocks to their residents’ pocketbooks by committing to a 100% clean energy by 2035 plan in GWP’s forthcoming and consequential Integrated Resource Plan, which will determine the City’s energy mix for the next twenty years. Here’s how they can do it: 

1. Invest in Distributed Energy Resources (DERs): Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Solar & Storage 

Glendale can still ditch its wasteful investment in the Grayson power plant, which the Sierra Club continues to challenge in Court, by investing in local clean energy resources for residents and businesses. Glendale residents have consistently not only voiced support for clean energy at City Council meetings, but have demonstrated support through their participation in GWP programs. 

When GWP first rolled out rooftop solar rebates two decades ago, demand was high, with waiting lists even piling up within the first two weeks of the fiscal year. And now, Glendale residents also voluntarily participate in the City’s demand response program, where they receive payments in response for allowing their thermostat to be adjusted during times of grid stress. The participation of Glendale residents in its demand response program beats that of neighboring utilities, but still has plenty of room for improvement to hit the City’s own goals. Seeing this success, the City Council responded by unanimously directing GWP to create plans to achieve both a 100% clean energy by 2035 goal and then a 10% goal for rooftop solar and storage adoption by 2027. Wider adoption of distributed energy resources (DERs) like batteries is critical in order for Glendale to hit these goals. (Join Sierra Club’s industrial-scale rooftop solar tour on Dec 2nd in Monrovia!)

Investing in DERs brings many societal benefits that utilities normally do not value in their own energy planning processes. When customers have their own rooftop solar and battery, they can keep their bills affordable, while enhancing local reliability and resiliency in the case of extreme weather events. This is precisely why a Vermont utility opted to invest in distributed batteries for its customers, which they found was the most cost effective and resilient clean energy option.  

DERs across the City can also be aggregated into a “Virtual Power Plant” which manages and coordinates all the behind-the-meter resources to be dispatched collectively during times of peak demand and displace the use of gas plants. With the high number of renters in Glendale, incentives for DERs should be done with an equity focus, with added incentives for renters and investment in community solar and storage, local off-site solar projects that renters who don’t own their own roofs can receive credit for on their energy bills. 

2. Accelerate Electrification 

Last year, the Glendale City Council joined other climate-friendly cities to pass an ambitious reach code for all-electric new construction, which would increase local solar generation and increase EV charging. Not only will increased electrification spread the cost of the energy system across more customers and put downward pressure on rates, but it will also enable more customers to be energy efficient and shift their load, ultimately relieving stress on the grid during peak hours and saving GWP money in the long run. Load shifting essentially smooths peaks in electricity demand throughout the day and helps facilitate the use of electricity when clean energy is more abundant, like during the day when solar output is high. So the next time there’s a heat wave, instead of GWP having to urgently appeal to customers to limit energy use during peak hours, automated load shifting of electric appliances can help avert panic and better manage grid emergencies. 

GWP already has policies that it should build on to promote load shifting - including its incentive to charge your electric vehicle during off-peak hours, so that you’re more likely to charge your car from solar power during the day than from a polluting gas plant in the evening. 

In fact, a recent report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the benefits from massive investments in building electrification outweighed the costs because of its load shifting potential. There is also momentum growing for load shifting at the state level, with the California Energy Commission setting a state load shift goal to double current levels of demand flexibility that could power up to 7 million homes by the end of the decade without new power plants. 

3. Capitalize on Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) Funding 

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) provides powerful new tools for GWP to make this clean energy transition, investing nearly $400 billion in tax credits and direct spending to fund clean energy and transmission resilience investments. Under the IRA, public power entities like GWP have new opportunities to reduce costs for GWP ratepayers and drive a new, local clean energy economy. The IRA can support local investments in residential and commercial DERs, build and own clean energy, and improve power infrastructure. GWP can use IRA programs to reduce costs, increase resiliency and bring new economic opportunities. 

GWP’s continued reliance on gas not only fuels the climate crisis and contributes to health-harming air pollution, but reports show that gas plants can’t be relied on to keep the lights on as our weather gets more extreme. This year’s Integrated Resource Plan will be Glendale’s most important in determining its energy future (read our recommendations to GWP here). Unfortunately, most of the scenarios GWP analyzes completely ignore the City’s clean energy goals and never plan to retire its Grayson gas plant. It’s time for Glendale to ditch the energy model of the past for the clean, more resilient energy model of the future. Otherwise, Glendale residents’ lungs and pocketbooks will continue to suffer from the utility’s failure to commit.