LADWP Can Get to 100% Renewable Energy by 2035
…If We Demand It
Updated February 7, 2021
LADWP, the Los Angeles municipal owned utility, has been a laggard when it comes to transitioning away from fossil fuels. In fact, it is one of the few utilities in California that still relies on coal.
But there is an opportunity for LADWP to become a leader in the state, by embracing a pathway to 100% renewable energy by 2035 (or earlier). Choosing this path would have a meaningful impact on greenhouse gas emissions and local air quality by 2025. Now is the time to engage this process.
To stop the worsening of the climate crisis, we need to do two primary things. First, we must replace fossil fuels—particularly gasoline in transportation and methane gas in buildings—with electricity. In an optimistic scenario in which transportation and buildings are electrified quickly, electricity demand in Los Angeles is expected to double by 2045. Second (but also simultaneously), we need to generate our electricity using 100% renewable energy. Here we focus on the second part, clean electricity.
California’s SB100 mandated that utilities generate 100% of our electricity with renewable sources by 2045. In response to the SB100 mandate, LADWP commissioned the LA 100: 100% Renewable Energy Study to review options for achieving this goal or surpassing the goal by getting to 100% renewable by 2035.
The LA 100 study is nearing completion. In January, several public meetings were held to share an overview of the findings, with public comment coming soon. The study presents four alternative paths to 100% renewable energy and takes into consideration reliability, environmental impact, economic impact, and social equity. The most aggressive path, which reaches 100% renewables by 2035, is appropriately called “LA Leads”. The three other alternatives reach 100% by 2045, although the baseline “SB 100” plan still uses 10% natural gas offset by renewable energy credits. The study authors emphasize that they are not endorsing a specific plan, and that LADWP can pick and choose elements from each path.
2045 vs 2035
The landmark SB100 law makes 2045 the floor for getting to 100% renewable electricity, but as the price of renewable electricity falls rapidly and more is known about the climate crisis, 2045 is no longer considered a very ambitious target. In fact, Joe Biden campaigned on 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and state legislators are now in the early stages of considering moving the target date up.
All four paths outlined in the study rely heavily on wind and solar (both utility-scale and residential), which together can meet 70-90% of LADWP energy needs, according to the study. They also rely on using “green hydrogen”, which is hydrogen generated by renewable energy as fuel (more on this below). To maintain reliability of the grid, the study recommends hydrogen-fired power plants that come online only when needed.
The “LA Leads” path is the most expensive. It gets to true 100% renewable (no offsets) by 2035 by investing earlier and more heavily in geothermal, hydrogen, and battery storage. It is forecast to be 22% more expensive than the next most ambitious plan.
As we all know, the sooner we get to 100% renewable electricity, the better for the climate. Moving faster would also bring health and economic benefits. There is now a pathway to get LADWP to 100% renewable by 2035 (it is at 55% now), but we should expect pushback due to the higher projected cost, the interests of fossil fuel companies, and the gravity of the status quo.
About that Coal Plant
Remember how we said LADWP still relies on coal? In 2019, 21% of LA’s electricity was generated by the coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant in Utah. The good news is the plant is scheduled to stop using coal by 2025. The current plan, however, is to transition the plant to a combination of gas and renewable-generated hydrogen power, starting with a mix of 70% gas to 30% hydrogen and reaching 100% green hydrogen by 2045. This puts LADWP on a path to 100% renewable by 2045, but not 2035.
There is a grassroots movement that mobilized callers to an LADWP meeting in January to demand 100% renewable energy at Intermountain from the start (2025). However, there are differing opinions on whether this is currently technologically feasible. Some say yes, while others say this is unproven technology at the scale required and hydrogen production is very energy intensive.
What You Should Know About Hydrogen
Hydrogen burns cleanly, emitting only water. But, although it is the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen needs to be isolated to be used as fuel, making it essentially a storage mechanism rather than a fuel itself. Like a battery, hydrogen allows energy to be stored and used when renewables can’t meet the electricity demand. But it is only as green as the way it is produced, and this process is not necessarily carbon-free.
Green hydrogen produced from water using renewable energy makes up very little of hydrogen used today; the rest is generated using fossil fuels. As the cost of renewable power declines, the economics of green hydrogen will inevitably improve. But suffice it to say that there is widespread debate about whether this technology will be scalable and economic any time soon.
With the Intermountain Power Plant, LADWP is making a bet that green hydrogen will reach cost parity with battery storage. But its own timeline shows that this is going to take at least a decade to achieve. In the meantime, are they missing out on a proven solution? Last year, neighboring SoCal Edison signed contracts for 770 megawatts of solar + battery storage (the new Intermountain plant will have capacity of 840 MW), with completion due in a little over a year.
What’s Next for LADWP
LADWP is planning to take public input on the study in March. Sign up at the top of this page for updates from SoCal 350 on ways to push LADWP to take a leadership role by transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2035 (or earlier).