Los Angeles Is FiT for the Future

When the history of L.A.'s leadership in green innovation is written, February 2013 will be remembered as a groundbreaking month. After four years of determined effort by a committed coalition of stakeholders, on February 1 the City of Los Angeles formally launched its feed-in tariff (FiT) -- a forward-looking solar energy program that will distinguish L.A. as a leader in renewable energy while attracting new investment and creating new, private-sector jobs in our city. The 100-megawatt program approved this month will make L.A.'s FiT the largest urban rooftop solar program of its kind in the United States.

As president of the Los Angeles Business Council (LABC), the leading advocate of the FiT since 2009, I could not be more pleased about the launch or more excited about its prospects to accelerate the renewable energy industry in L.A. and help kick-start our economy. I am also grateful to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles City Council, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, and the other visionary leaders who helped make this program a reality.

The feed-in tariff is a solar buyback program that allows property owners -- primarily commercial and multifamily residential property -- to sell the power generated from rooftop solar panels back to the L.A. Department of Water and Power (DWP). Next month the DWP will present a proposal for an additional 50 megawatts, creating a 150-megawatt program large enough to power some 34,000 typical L.A. homes.

The benefits of the FiT are numerous. Currently, most of our renewable power is generated outside the L.A. basin and transmitted inefficiently over hundreds of miles back to customers here in the city. By contrast, the FiT will incentivize clean-energy production within city limits by taking advantage of L.A.'s vast, underused rooftop space. Research commissioned by the LABC and conducted in partnership with UCLA and USC demonstrates that the full, 150-megawatt program will create 4,500 jobs, create a half-billion dollars of economic activity, and generate over $300 million in federal tax credits for local businesses. At the same time, the FiT will diminish the city's reliance on dirty, coal-fired power plants and eliminate 2.25 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2016.

Importantly, the FiT will help the city and the state reach the renewable energy targets that are mandated by state law, and do so in a cost-effective way: the DWP has determined that the 100-megawatt program launched this month will have an impact on ratepayers of just four cents per month. Given these benefits, it's little surprise that a broad "CLEAN LA Coalition" joined forces with the LABC in supporting the FiT, including dozens of leaders from the business, labor, environmental, social justice and civic sectors.

Even though the FiT is brand new, we're already seeing encouraging evidence of the economic boost it will deliver to Los Angeles. An international solar firm, Solar Provider Group, has announced plans to open its headquarters in Los Angeles and hire up to 30 new employees in sales, engineering and construction over the next year - part of an investment that could total $50 million by 2016. I am fully confident that the investment to come from Solar Provider Group is just the beginning of a tide of new economic activity that will lift Los Angeles over the months and years to come as a result of the FiT. Fortunately, our research has confirmed that the city already has a skilled "workforce in waiting" of men and women trained for solar work, thanks to job readiness programs run by Homeboy Industries and other nonprofit organizations.

As a city celebrated for its sunshine and commitment to environmental sustainability, Los Angeles is well-positioned to be a national leader in the burgeoning solar energy field. The feed-in tariff is a major step toward making good on the tremendous promise this industry offers to all of us.