LA Vows to be Coal-Free by 2020 - Can it be Done?

la coal free 2020 photo

Photo via SB Report

Yesterday, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced his intention to make the city entirely coal-free by 2020, and turn to clean and renewable energy instead. Inspiring? Yes. Possible? Maybe not so much.Villaraigosa made the assertion during his second inauguration speech--and a bold assertion it is indeed. From his speech (via Going Green):

It's now time to meet the carbon challenge. Our second goal for the next four years is to put L.A. on a path to permanently break our addiction to coal. Coal currently accounts for roughly 40% of the DWP's power portfolio. Breaking the coal habit is a long term proposition demanding a long-term commitment. It's going to require investment from ratepayers.
End specifics. Well, it's a nice thought, isn't it? And I wouldn't be so cynical if there seemed like there was any clear way at all it could actually happen. That LA gets 40% of its energy from coal is a pretty significant figure, especially considering there are 4 million people in the city. As Triple Pundit points out, it's extremely infeasible that LA weans itself from coal in ten years when it has such a huge (and still growing) energy demand.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power provides about 7000 megawatts of power for the city, and coal makes up 40 percent of that, or 2800 MW. For some perspective, the largest solar plant in the country, the as-yet-unfinished Ivanpah Solar power plant in the Mojave Desert, will provide a mere 400 MW -- and LA shouldn't count on getting all of that.
So what are we to make of Villaraigosa's proclamation? Well, it's politically well-timed, with the recent passage of the climate bill still fresh in the memory. Plus, it's pretty likely he won't have to be held accountable if the target isn't hit--not too likely he'll still be in office in 2020.

Cynicism aside, the statement is already having some pretty positive effects: plans for a new coal-fired power plant in Utah were thrown out after they'd heard LA was going coal-free. Which is pretty huge news--the Sierra Club noted that it marked the 100th plant since 2001 to have been shut down.

And perhaps it's not such a bad thing in every case to think and talk bigger than you're truly prepared for--he might not have the plans or infrastructure ready to achieve a coal free reality in ten years, but publicly spurning coal--and actually getting a coal plant scuttled--is always a plus in my book. Plus, he's managed to get LA on track to be powered by 20% renewable energy by next year, and renewable energy development is rapidly picking up speed across the country, so perhaps where there's a will . . .

More on LA and Coal
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