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Green technology and 'Solar Initiative'

February 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Among initiatives that will appear on the March 3rd ballot in California is Measure B, the so-called "solar initiative." Measure B could mean a windfall at Solar Integrated Tech Inc. in South Los Angeles. A few years ago there were 10 employees producing pliable, high-tech panels here; today there are more than 200. If Measure B passes, look for a hiring boom.

"The size and scope of Measure B is big," said Bruce Khouri, Solar Integrated. "It's so game-changing that we expect to add up to 750 new positions in this company over the next five years, should Measure B pass."

Huge, it is. But no one seems to know how huge its price tag will be. Enough solar panels to produce 400 megawatts of power, te biggest solar project in the nation. Costs estimates vary widely from $1 billion to $3.6 billion.

"You know, it's like providing a blank check," said Gregory Lippe, Valley Industry & Commerce Association.

Against the measure, Greg Lippe is a certified public accountant who heads the Valley Industry & Commerce Assoc.

"The city is has a $400-million shortfall and they're talking about spending money for something and they don't know what it's going to cost," said Lippe.

Mayor Anotonio Villaraigosa believes the project would pay off in the long term.

"It is absolutely preposterous that in the city of L.A. -- a sunshine city, a sunshine capital -- that only 12 megawatts, 12 megawatts of solar [power] are produced in the city of Los Angeles," said Mayor Villaraigosa.

The measure was conceived by members of IBEW Union Local 18, the union for Department of Water and Power workers. They would be the only ones allowed to install the solar units.

Yet an independent report presented by the city's analyst questions whether DWP could handle a project of this size. The department, says the report, has a critical lack of skills, strategic planning and financial analysis. The risk of failure and significant cost overruns is high, the report says.

"And there are no restrictions on what the ratepayers might have to pay," said Lippe.

Supporters nevertheless say it is a step in the right direction, a mandate for a green future.


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