CLEAN LA: Los Angeles passes a feed-in tariff… with limitations

clean_coalition_pv_viewLast Friday, the LADWP board of commissioners voted to approve a 100 MW expansion of the CLEAN LA program. Well, it wasn’t really an expansion, because the “FIT 100” is very different from the 10 MW “demonstration” program. Notably, the “FIT 100” resembles a real feed-in tariff, in that in offers producers of electricity from solar photovoltaic (PV) installations a set price for 20 years.

The bad news? The program is limited to 100 MW, in six-month 20 MW allotments, and is limited to PV plants between 30 kW and 3 MW. This second part may be more of a concern than the first part. Palo Alto recently passed a feed-in tariff, but the first several months got no response, probably because the program was limited to PV plants at least 100 kW in size and paid only  $0.14/kWh. By contrast, CLEAN LA will pay $0.17/kWh initially, to degress to $0.13/kWh in USD 0.01 increments. (In December, Palo Alto changed its program so that it pays $0.165/kWh and has no minimum project size).

Neither of project size or annual capacity limitations are typical present in the successful feed-in tariffs which have been enacted in European nations, which have led transformational change in the way these nations produce electricity away from conventional generation and towards renewable energy. However, this is the United States, where our concept of what is possible is greatly limited.

To put this in perspective: LA has 3.8 million residents. Germany has 82 million. On a per capita basis, adding 100 MW of PV in LA is like adding roughly 2 GW in Germany (over three years). Last year alone Germany installed almost 8 GW.

It’s still progress in that this program at least has the mechanism of a real feed-in tariff, in that it sets rates above the cost of generation (if narrowly), instead of the competitive bidding programs that have been masquerading as feed-in tariffs. However, it is tragic that in the United States policy makers seem to feel the need to neuter the feed-in tariffs that actually get passed, so that they cannot transform our electricity systems.

It’s like driving with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake. The long and the short: CLEAN LA is an ambitious policy move, at an unambitious scale.

LADWP CLEAN LA “FIT 100” description

(photo courtesy of Clean Coalition)

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