Multi-family rooftop solar for low-income housing as multi-problem solution. Photos by RCruger
At a Sustainability Summit in LA last week, a group of academic, business and political leaders gathered to unveil plans for "Integrating our Energy Housing and Community Needs." Henry Cisneros, the former head of the Housing and Urban Development for the Clinton Administration spoke on a panel along with Mercedes Marquez from the current department to discuss plans for green HUD projects and a proposal for rooftop solar on low-income housing in Los Angeles. The Mayor stopped by and everyone praised his support of the Solar Feed-in Tariff program which the City Council is expected to vote "yes" on. Will it work?University of Southern California's Dr. Manuel Pastor and J.R. DeShazo of the Luskin Center for Innovation presented compelling details of their collaboration with HUD and the LA Business Council to determine the advantages of a solar energy program to economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of the city. Among many issues the USC/UCLA study points out, including the production of jobs, is the case for renewable energy from apartment building roofs (as opposed to industry or deserts), as a equitable solution that benefits residents.
Feed-In Tariffs Incentivize Solar Installation
LA's City Council President Jan Perry, chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, announced she'd bring a motion to implement a pilot program of 75 megawatts for a Solar Feed-In-Tariff project. "This will provide benefits to the environment, to low income residents and to non-profits that can apply energy savings to social service programs."
The LA proposal, the largest solar feed-in tariff program in the US, would develop 500 megawatts of solar-generated electricity over the next decade -- about three percent of the city's power needs - and hopes to directly reduce energy costs for consumers. With 100,000 multifamily rental apartment buildings in the city accounting for about one-half of the residents, there's a tremendous untapped resource for capturing the sun.
Cisneros and Marquez of past and current HUD department weigh in on sustainable housing.
"The program will create jobs and enable low-income residents in participating buildings to benefit from rebates or reduced utility costs," said Kelly Boyer with HUD. "And that's before you talk about clean air benefits." Besides the department's green took kit, HUD is greening 157,000 units nationwide and 2,500 in LA.
The successful feed-in tariff solar project in Gainsville, Florida met its goal for first-year participation within a week. Many are anxious to access the Federal tax credits available through 2016, providing up to $300 million to Los Angeles property owners to install solar power. A rate agreement offered by the Department of Water and Power is another incentive for investors.
The savings in utilities also greatly benefits seniors. David Grunwald of Affordable Living for the Aging admitted he wasn't a believer a few years ago, fearing it was too expensive. But after saving up to $14,000 in utilities annually, he said, "I'm a poster child for sustainability. It's an ideal blending of social, economic and environmental goals." Mary Silverstein Director of the LA Housing Partnership's 7 Maple Senior Housing Development said, "This allows us to funnel those savings into our resident programs."
At another panel moderated by Mary Nichols of the California Air Resources Board, representatives from local utilities addressed the changes to California's now renewable energy mandate and listed the retrofitting goals they've already accomplished. Some admitted rebates are slow in coming, which was confirmed by a disgruntled owner of a solar installation firm I spoke with at the break, who said his contractor has been waiting for hundreds of thousands of dollars in rebates for months. "The suits can all pat themselves on the back, but ironically, this makes my business unsustainable."
The path for bikes and feed-in tariffs
Finally, LA's Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke of the city's many initiatives, how parts of the LA River are now navigable and graduates of the Green Retrofit Training Program are upgrading city buildings,diesel trucks are being reduced at the ports, and more mass transit is in the works. He's also a proponent of extensive bike paths throughout LA and broke his elbow when a taxi hit him on the campaign trail.
There's scarce money for the approved bike paths so let's see how his solar feed-in tariffs fare, and if others will follow.
More on feed-in-tariffs:
Breaking News: UK Solar Now Affordable? Feed-In Tariffs Announced
Transforming the Economics of Solar: How Feed-in Tariffs Work
South Africa Creates World-Leading Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariffs
China Readying Large Feed-In Tariff for Utility-Scale Solar Power