'Solar L.A.' project seeks green light

LOS ANGELES Imagine buildings across Los Angeles, their roofs covered in solar panels generating electricity. That is the ambitious plan called "Solar L.A."

"We were the dirtiest public utility in the United States of America when we began. Three years ago we were at 2 percent renewables. Today we're at 10 percent renewables, on our way to 20 percent by 2010," declared L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The proposal is for the Department of Water and Power to install solar panels that would remain the property of the DWP. The electricity would be sent into the power grid and could generate enough for 100,000 residences. That's about 10 percent of the city's total energy needs.

"The solar plan catapults Los Angeles into the ranks of global leaders as far as the development and expansion of solar energy is concerned," said David Nahai, Department of Water and Power general manager.

The plan would be voluntary but is restricted to commercial, industrial or government buildings.

The mayor said this project will also bring jobs. He and City Council members toured the city's only solar manufacturing firm, which could make some of the panels, but critics say it won't be cheap and the cost will be passed on to consumers. Some estimates say monthly electric bills could go up 8 percent or more.

"We have coal-burning plants to pollute into our earth and also into our environment here. We pay a price for that too. So through a combination of solar and wind and geothermal, we're going to green this industry and we're going to green our utilities. It will cost a little bit more up front, but it will save us money in the long run with our health," said L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti.

To do this, it will cost the DWP hundreds of millions of dollars. And the voters will have the final say. It will be on the March 2009 ballot.

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