Analysis calls ambitious L.A. solar plan 'extremely risky'
An outside consultant says Measure B, which easily made the March 3 ballot, is more costly than portrayed by the city's Department of Water and Power.
By David Zahniser
December 19, 2008
When members of the Los Angeles City Council agreed last month to put an ambitious solar energy plan on the March 3 ballot, they talked effusively about their desire for cleaner air and "green" technology jobs -- the kind that could boost the economy during a recession.
What they didn't discuss was an analysis by a city-hired consulting firm that called the solar plan "extremely risky" and considerably more expensive than was being portrayed by the Department of Water and Power.
Measure B, which calls for unionized DWP workers to install solar panels on rooftops and parking lots across the city, sailed onto the ballot with a unanimous vote. But days earlier, the council's top policy advisor was so troubled by the proposal that, in an e-mail to Council President Eric Garcetti, he recommended that the council delay it until a future election.
After receiving the analysis from the consulting firm, Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller warned Garcetti that the solar measure could result in "substantial increases" to the electricity bills of DWP customers.
Neither Miller nor Garcetti made those findings part of the public record. Since then, Miller's office has rebuffed requests from The Times for a copy of the consulting firm's analysis, saying the state's public records law allows city officials to withhold any document that would reveal the "deliberative process" between the council and its chief legislative analyst.
Miller said Thursday he is no longer worried about the cost, as long as the DWP can secure $1.5 billion in solar tax credits. But he said the agency still must deal with other findings from the consultant, which concluded that the utility "does not have the planning mechanisms and resources in place" to accomplish the solar plan.
Opponents have called Measure B a backdoor mechanism to make voters sign off on a huge package of DWP rate increases. And they accused Garcetti and Miller of concealing the findings of the private analysts, P.A. Consulting Group.
"That's the problem with City Hall," said former DWP Commission President Nick Patsaouras who opposes Measure B and is running for city controller. "They think the average taxpayer is not smart enough to tell them the truth."
[Nick Patsaouras is running against LA City Councilmember Wendy Greuel for the position of City Controll in the March 3, 2009 general election. See Greuel's comments below. LA VOTERS FOR CHANGE strongly endorses Nick Patsaouras for City Controller.]
In a Nov. 4 e-mail obtained by The Times, (Miller wrote,) "It concerns me greatly that the department did not come forward with this information themselves. It would have been as available to them as it was to me."
Garcetti said he later gave Miller permission to give the findings to other council members -- and would not have voted to place the measure on the ballot if he thought the findings were accurate.
[LA VOTERS FOR CHANGE would like to remind Mr. Garcetti that it is not up to him to make that final decision for all other Councilmembers. LA VOTERS FOR CHANGE would like to remind Council President Garcetti that he is working in a democratic, not autocratic system.]
Still, Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who heads the council's Budget and Finance Committee, said he never received the findings -- and wished that he had.
"If this is accurate information, or at least a point of view, the council should get the chance to ferret through this," Parks said.
The DWP has already agreed to impose increases of nearly 24% on electricity bills between 2006 and 2010. DWP officials contend the solar plan would lead to rate hikes of no more than 4% for the average household, and that those would occur no sooner than 2011.
But according to a one-page summary attached to Miller's e-mail, P.A. Consulting Group warned that ratepayers could face annual surcharges of up to 12% per year if Measure B passes.
The analysis also said that the solar plan would cost $3.6 billion, not the $1.5 billion suggested by DWP General Manager H. David Nahai.
"Bottom line is they do not believe that the department can deliver on this program at all, and that the costs associated with the program are way understated," Miller wrote in his e-mail to Garcetti.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and council members have embraced the solar plan, which was spearheaded by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents DWP employees. Under the plan, all the solar panels would be owned by the DWP and installed by the utility's workers.
Councilwoman Jan Perry, who heads the Energy and Environment Committee, said Miller showed her the one-page summary of the consulting firm's findings. Perry said she was "alarmed" by the potential effect on DWP ratepayers but did not keep the document because she thought it was confidential.
Greuel, who is also running for city controller, said she also looked at Miller's document but concluded that the DWP had answered all the questions raised by it.
[Is that they type of response you want to hear from someone running for City Controller? Enough blind-eyes inside city council chambers: LA VOTERS FOR CHANGE ENDORSE NICK PATSAOURAS FOR LOS ANGELES CITY CONTROLLER.]
The firm warned that (a DWP) surcharge, which stands at 4% annually, could triple if Measure B passes.
DWP officials said they had not received a copy of the outside analysis. But in an interview two weeks ago, Nahai said the prospect for a larger surcharge was unlikely.
[DWP officials were o.k. with putting something of this magnatude on the ballot, without reading the report? I guess it didn't matter what the report said, they are doing this, no matter what the cost to city ratepayers.]
SAY NO TO VILLARAIOGOSA'S SOLAR ENERGY BOONDOGGLE (make that BONDoggle)!
LA VOTERS FOR CHANGE URGE YOU TO VOTE "NO to Measure B!"
"Is that within the realm of political possibility? I would say no."
Original LA Times Post
LA Voters For Change.com