Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Going Solar with Un-Tied Shoelaces

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Los Angeles.

On March 3rd residents of Los Angeles will use their Californian tradition of direct democracy to decide whether or not to boost solar energy for the city’s electricity consumption.

Measure B was originally proposed by the leadership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 13 due to fears that the city’s green energy plan was not moving along effectively. Under the measure, the solar panels would be owned by the union, installed for residents who wished to participate, and the city would provide initial financing as well as rebate programs to help residents afford the technology.

Yet the proposal has come under fire in recent days because David Nahai - head of the Department of Water and Power - was unable to provide the City Council with cost estimates. He will be delivering his report later this month - about four months after he urged the Council to place the measure on the ballot.

“Because the plan changed repeatedly until Nov. 7, the day the council put it on the ballot, there was no way to prepare an accurate analysis, Nahai said. ‘A fiscal analysis would have been meaningless had we done it before’ the final draft was adopted, he added. ‘What would we have analyzed?’

“Nahai has already had to contend with an unfavorable, if preliminary, analysis of the solar plan prepared by P.A. Consulting, a firm that expressed doubts about the DWP's ability to install so many new solar panels and obtain $1.5 billion in federal tax credits to pay for them.”

In addition to the IBEW, Measure B is supported by a large number of groups including the LA League of Conservation Voters as well as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Some on the Council are afraid they voted for it too quickly. "For some reason, they decided to wait until the last minute to take it to the council, probably because they thought they could slip it through without the facts, which they did," said Councilman Greig Smith, who now opposes the measure.

And the Los Angeles Times has turned critical to the way the issue was handled. This is what they said in a recent editorial:

"We remain open to the idea that this ballot measure may be the best way to get [smart solar power as an integral part of the city's green energy strategy]. But the process seems designed to get voters to sign off on a plan without sufficient knowledge of it, and it is undermining a broader discussion of solar power in Los Angeles. There is a point at which process gets so bad that it outweighs substance, no matter how good that substance may be. We're rapidly approaching that point."

In fact, it is not too uncommon that proposals are put to voters without a detailed analysis of the plan (especially in California - see Proposition 13) but it is especially detrimental when it becomes an issue that can derail a campaign. The nature of this new criticism makes Measure B seem unfit to support - not because it is a bad proposal, but because of procedure.

In this way, the Mayor and the City Council pursued a boost to solar energy like a child running through a hallway without his shoelaces tied. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not he trips.

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