live / 2014

Solar in the Sunshine Capital: LA is known for its abundant sun. Let’s put it to use.

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by The Sierra Club Foundation

Our goal is to empower people across Los Angeles to achieve rooftop solar and to secure a climate friendly future.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

We are dedicated to exploring, enjoying and protecting the planet.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Fernando Valley
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

LA has a staggering amount of flat, empty roof space, bathed in sunlight for roughly 260 days a year. However, less than 2% of LA’s electricity currently comes from solar power. Increasing the role of rooftop solar lessens our dependence on fossil fuels, enhances economic development opportunities, and creates jobs. Our project will aim to democratize energy decisions by engaging the public with the goal of getting 20 percent of LA’s energy from rooftop solar by 2020. Over the next year, this project will organize communities across the city and build broad-based support for a city that harvests the sun to power our neighborhoods. We envision a future where LA runs on 100% clean energy and every building can be powered with rooftop solar.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Our coalition brings together a unique set of skills, including communication experts, business leaders, and community organizers. Our campaign focuses on one outcome with four primary components. When we win, 20% of Angelenos’ power will come from rooftop solar by 2020, and we will be on track to achieve our vision of 100% clean energy in LA by 2050. To get there, we propose four campaign components: (1) grassroots community education/empowerment to democratize solar; (2) demonstration solar projects; (3) media campaign; and (4) summer solstice solar event.

  1. Grassroots community education and empowerment a. Host three community solar fairs throughout Los Angeles to educate local communities about existing programs. b. Run five rooftop trainings for community organizations across the city to teach people about the benefits of solar and solar programs. c. Gather support from 100 additional community leaders or organizations. d. Collect 20,000 petitions. e. Educate public officials, including Los Angeles Department of Water and Power commissioners, about the benefits of implementing solar programs

  2. Demonstration Projects a. Complete at least one demonstration project on low-income, multifamily buildings, which will result in approximately 0.5 MW of installed solar while educating communities about the benefits of rooftop solar, generating clean power that would reduce utility bills for the owner and residents, and providing job training when possible.

  3. Media Campaign a. Use social media, infographics, and videos to engage Angelenos about the potential for rooftop solar, existing programs in LA, and the potential for new programs. b. Generate six articles in local press highlighting the benefits of rooftop solar and four op-eds.

  4. Summer Solstice Solar Event a. Organize and host a free, public Summer Solstice event with music, food, games, and speakers to celebrate LA’s solar potential and engage Angelenos on the issue. Goal is to engage 3,000 Angelenos in one day.

How will your idea/project help make LA the healthiest place to LIVE today? In 2050?

Los Angeles has the dirtiest air in the country and reliance on fossil fuels, including for our power plants, creates smog and soot that leads to premature deaths and asthma attacks. In particular, the residents of mostly low-income communities and communities of color, where the worst polluters are located, experience disproportionate rates of youth and adult asthma hospitalizations, cancer, and premature deaths due to multiple stressors, including environmental factors. Health impacts from stationary pollution sources, such as oil refineries and power plants, are exacerbated by a lack of access to healthcare, limited access to healthy food, and other cumulative impacts.

Equity is an essential part of our program. The growth of the green economy must come with equitable benefits that reach across every LA community. While this project has the potential to transform the city and help clean up our air more generally, we will focus on ensuring strong health and economic benefits in low-income communities that have been left behind during other periods of economic growth.

This project will emphasize two communities that bear the brunt of fossil fuel pollution impacts: Pacoima and Wilmington.

Pacoima is overburdened by multiple sources of pollution; a dearth of environmental benefits, such as access to open space; and a lack of access to high quality jobs, education, transportation, healthcare, and retail opportunities. Toxic facilities, such as metal fabricators, auto dismantlers, and dozens of waste processors, are concentrated in this area along with high levels of diesel truck traffic and an airport. These pollution sources are frequently within unsafe proximities to homes, schools, parks, and houses of worship.

Wilmington is a largely working class, Latino community and has some of the highest concentrations of pollution in the state. As a result, Wilmington residents experience some of the highest cancer risks. Wilmington is a vulnerable community with a population of 55,000 people with 87 percent of Latino heritage.

We know that rooftop solar alone won’t alone solve the overwhelming levels of pollution faced daily by Pacoima and Wilmington, but spurring rooftop solar installations in these communities is an important first step to ensuring that front-line communities lead the transition beyond fossil fuels, while driving economic investments that will improve access to jobs, healthcare, healthy foods, and more.

Whom will your project benefit?

Los Angeles will benefit greatly from a robust market for rooftop solar on homes, office buildings, schools, warehouses, parking lots, and other facilities. Solar can benefit our environment, our health and our economy by providing cleaner air, reducing global warming, conserving water, and creating jobs. Our project generates a broad array of benefits for residents of LA and surrounding areas, with an emphasis on equity. In completing this project, there are a set of benefits that Angelenos will share broadly, as well as specific benefits to subsets of the city and county’s population.

Economic Development: Expanding local solar power would create jobs and save Angelenos money. Increasing our city’s share of local solar to 20 percent by 2020 would create approximately 32,000 job-years of employment. To put this number in context, the University of California, Los Angeles—which ranks among the city’s leading employers—has a workforce of just under 32,000 people. Incentives have made it possible for the Los Angeles Unified School District to invest in a solar energy system that, when complete, will save up to $800,000 each month in electricity costs. These benefits should be available first in low income communities hit hardest by the recessions.

Water conservation: California is mired in a historic drought. Increasing our reliance on local rooftop solar would conserve valuable water by reducing the need for water guzzling power plants. Solar panels generate electricity without using any water beyond that needed for occasional washing. If 20 percent of our electricity generated from natural gas power plants was replaced with rooftop solar in LA, an estimated 435 million gallons of water per year would be saved.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

This project will be managed collaboratively by the Los Angeles Clean Energy Coalition (the coalition). Specifically, participants in the coalition include Communities for a Better Environment, Environment California Research and Policy Center, Global Green USA, Los Angeles Business Council, Natural Resource Defense Council, Pacoima Beautiful, and the Sierra Club. The coalition has worked together for nearly three years, building support for clean energy across Los Angeles. Our coalition represents various interests in Los Angeles that may not share all of the same goals but are united around a future in which Los Angeles relies on energy efficiency and renewable energy instead of coal and natural gas, producing an environmentally friendly economy that does not leave any of our communities behind.

Some of our groups represent low-income communities and communities of color that have long been underserved and are disproportionately affected by dirty fossil fuels the consequences of climate change. Others speak on behalf of some of the largest businesses in the city. Several coalition members are known for their technical and scientific expertise, and for their project-based work in Los Angeles. Our coalition also includes groups that focus on educating and organizing Angelenos to take action on issues they care about, often times through engaging and innovative social media campaigns. Together, we represent a range of interests and communities that are geographically and culturally diverse.

In recent years the coalition has led the effort to transform LA’s relationship with energy by contributing to the following accomplishments:

● Supporting the implementation of the largest urban rooftop solar program in the nation; ● Doubling Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) energy efficiency budget in 2012 (LA has now doubled energy savings in the last two years); and ● Securing a commitment from LADWP to end the use of coal no later than 2025.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Live” metrics?

  • Exposure to air toxins
  • Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Exposure to air toxins: Solar power displaces electricity that would otherwise come from power plants fired by coal and natural gas, helping to reduce smog. Every megawatt of solar power installed in LA prevents the emission of an estimated 610 pounds of smog-forming pollution per year. Installing 1,200 megawatts of solar power in Los Angeles would prevent the emission of more than 730,000 pounds of smog-forming pollution annually. This is equivalent to eliminating the tailpipe pollution of nearly 70,000 passenger vehicles. Because of fossil fuel pollution, the American Lung Association ranks LA as the most polluted metropolitan area in the United States in terms of high ozone days. Exposure to ozone pollution, or smog, can reduce lung function, trigger asthma attacks, create other respiratory problems, and cause eye and throat irritation. Approximately 1.2 million children and adults in LA County have been diagnosed with asthma, including 63,000 LAUSD students. At the same time, LA County senior citizens are at a greater risk than residents of any other county in the country to die prematurely as a result of air pollution-related illnesses, with an estimated 10 percent of deaths resulting from air pollution. Asthma and related health problems disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color in LA, as power plants are often sited in low-income communities. An economy built on solar will empower communities that are often environmentally disadvantaged to be leaders in a clean energy future.

Resiliency: In recent months and years, we have seen the very real effects of climate change in the form of hurricanes, droughts, floods, dramatic heat waves, and other extreme and devastating climate events. In LA, extreme weather patterns like intense heat and a rise in sea level will likely lead to increased drought, floods, brownouts, and blackouts. It is therefore more important than ever to build communities that are resilient and able to withstand unexpected and dramatic weather events. Resiliency means to be able to bend but not break, or to withstand major system stress without complete failure. Adapting—by protecting, modifying, or relocating buildings and infrastructure that are at risk—is a critical component. But resiliency also means creating flexible and distributed delivery of critical services, combined with strengthening social networks so that neighbors can find and help each other.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We will measure success through the following measurable deliverables: • Number of Angelenos who sign our petition: 20,000 • Number of community leaders who support our goal: 100 • Percent of Los Angeles power that comes from rooftop solar in 2020: 20% • LADWP GHG emission reductions by 2030: 80%

In other parts of the proposal, we lay out other specific outcomes and deliverables, but we think these are good proxies that reflect the major drive of our campaign: (1) engaging Angelenos across the city; (2) educating the public about the benefits of rooftop solar; (3) ensuring their voices are heard in the critical upcoming decisions about LA’s energy future; and (4) securing a major administrative policy win that results in the expansion of rooftop solar across LA and a reduction in the use of climate-disrupting fossil fuels.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

  1. Big changes rarely happen without strong public demand. In order for the city to really invest in an expedited clean energy future, the millions of Angelenos that support clean energy must be given the opportunity to make their voices heard. We already know that Angelenos want more solar. In a 2012 poll, more than 85 percent of responding LADWP customers agreed that more of the utility’s energy should come from solar power. And nearly three-quarters of respondents wanted at least half of the city’s electricity supply to come from renewable energy. Yet most LADWP customers do not get the chance to talk to LADWP leaders or city decision-makers about these issues. Through this project, our coalition will act as a conduit for public engagement. We will elevate the existing public demand for clean energy and increased rooftop solar and ensure that elected officials and key staff are hearing from Angelenos about what they want, and are using this information to inform administrative energy decisions.

  2. In order to create the kind of sea change that we will need to switch to a clean energy economy, we cannot just rely on distant solutions. Rooftop solar is the type of tangible change that people can get excited about. Often, clean energy solutions are described through technical proceedings and wonky jargon that fail to inspire. Rooftop solar is an exception. Unlike some other options, rooftop solar is an approach that people can see and touch, not just a vague concept that seems to exist through data alone. Installing solar panels can change the landscape of a neighborhood in just a few hours, and can generate pride in a community that had previously just seen smokestacks and freeways. Rooftop solar gets people excited because it’s exciting as a physical symbol of the future. To curb global warming, we will need to rely on multiple approaches, but rooftop solar allows people to have an emotional relationship to clean energy, the first step in building public demand for a comprehensive clean energy future.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Now is the time to put LA on the path towards a clean energy future. Our campaign timing is aligned with our local utility’s planning process. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) will be updating their long-term strategic plan in 2015, which will include new investments and overhauling 70 percent of the city’s energy supply over the next 15 years. The question is: will Los Angeles switch from dirty coal to risky natural gas, or will it use this opportunity to break free from fossil fuels once and for all? A comprehensive energy plan from the city should set aggressive but achievable climate targets, anchored in local clean energy programs that provide local economic benefits to the region. Los Angeles has the largest publicly-owned utility in the nation, meaning that every Angeleno is a “shareholder” and has a voice in the direction of the utility. Angelenos love rooftop solar, and we must empower individuals across the city to ensure that their voices are heard so that the utility commits to a clean energy future.

There are a few key decision points over the next year that makes this a realistic goal for the coming 12 months. First and foremost is the utility’s long term strategic planning process. The LADWP will be setting new energy goals next year and our plan aligns with that time frame. Second, our existing rooftop solar programs are set to wrap up over the coming two years unless they are extended. Our mayor is committed to rooftop solar, and we anticipate a public debate over how the city moves forward with rooftop solar in the coming years.

Our campaign already has significant momentum, thanks to the work of individual coalition members like Environment California. Already, more than 100 leaders have endorsed the campaign goal, including our mayor. But, we need to keep pressing as we approach these pending LADWP decisions.

Our campaign plan and deliverables align with this time frame and are designed to educate the public and galvanize support around our goals.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

  1. Ensuring equity in the solar program: As described above, low income communities and communities of color would benefit from increased solar more than almost any other group. Unfortunately, the upfront costs associated with solar can be prohibitive for low-income populations. Additionally, many low-income populations live in multifamily buildings and do not own the property, leaving the decision to install solar to the building owner and out of the hands of the residents.

In implementing this project, we will focus much of our outreach in low-income communities and ensure that disadvantaged populations are part of the discussion and decision-making processes from the beginning. Initial research from the UCLA’s Luskin Center shows that Los Angeles has untapped rooftop potential in high-need areas. Many low-income communities are adjacent to buildings with extensive rooftops, and solar in these areas could mean tangible benefits for these businesses, as well as jobs for nearby residents. Our project will capitalize on this potential to create a program that allows everyone to benefit from solar.

  1. Clean energy technology is growing at such an incredible rate and, as a result, public understanding hasn’t kept pace, leading to misconceptions around the cost and benefits of clean energy. For example, between 2008 and 2012, the cost of installing solar fell by 80 percent, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. This cost decline has helped California phase out subsidies for rooftop solar while the market continues to expand. In 2014, rooftop solar is not just a solution to environmental problems, but a way to help people save money and grow the economy.

Polls from the Los Angeles Business Council and others have shown time and again that solar is Angelenos top choice for energy. But, despite broad public support combined with favorable economics for clean energy, the false perception that solar is too expensive persists. Thus, we will focus on developing materials and a communications strategy to increase awareness that solar is not only great for the environment but also a cost effective energy source we can rely on to power our city.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Community outreach