Is solar power the keeper of gas and coal?

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Journalist Sammy Roth reports that a partially attended Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) Board of Commissioners has voted to not send a power purchase agreement (ppa) to the City Council for a vote. The agreement is with 8minute Solar Energy’s 400 MWac solar power facility Eland, and tabling is due to pressure from local unions. Roth notes that the LBEW Local 18 has run television ads stating that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan to get the city to 100% clean energy by 2050 will raise electricity prices and mean the loss of high paying jobs.

The facility, with energy storage, cheap land, a great powerline and some of the best sunlight in the nation per CEO Tom Buttgenbach – offered the municipal utility a 25-year power purchase agreement for 400 MWac of solar power at 1.997¢/kWh along with electricity from up to 200 MW / 800 MWh of energy storage at a 1.3¢/kWh adder.

And in terms of buried technical headlines of the week in the Roth article, Buttgenbach dropped us a nice one. With 200 MW / 800 MWh of batteries, Eland would have a capacity factor of 50%. If the city were to increase the amount of battery storage from 200 MW to 300 MW, it’d bring the solar-plus-storage price to 3.96¢/kWh – and increase the capacity factor to 60%(!!!). It is probable that this is an AC versus a DC capacity factor as most folks on this level speak in terms of deliverable electricity versus solar module sizing.

This 50%-60% capacity factor is a big step leading up toward potential 24/7 solar power plants Buttgenbach suggests might come to pass within five years, and are already on the drawing board.

Jobs and Justice

The three gas plants employ 400 workers, which the City says won’t lose their jobs in the long term. Roth reported that an IBEW Local 18 spokesman said the LADWP, “has not complied with its contractual obligations for this deal” and that the local union had done extensive work on renewable projects, but that concerns still needed to be raised. 8minute Solar Energy, possibly in response to the slowdown, noted they’d planned to sign a contract with the IBEW Local 428 to build the facility.

Recent reporting by the Mercury News, above image, noted that in California more than half a million people are employed in the clean energy industries, while just under 90,000 are employed by fossils. Nationwide, solar power is one of the fastest growing jobs classes (along with wind power technicians and even considering a contraction of solar jobs last year) – with just over 242,000 people directly employed at the end of 2018.

The coal industry, since their peak above 800,000 jobs in 1910, has slumped toward 50,000 jobs recently – and there is no reason to believe they’ll be coming back anytime soon with bigger, and younger coal plants closing. The US petroleum industry employs just over 510,000 people, with the natural has industry over 310,000.

The justice part of the article is a bit more complex than a word salad of numbers, and it is why it is appropriate for unions to use their people power to be a part of the jobs associated with these projects. For one, part of the reason distributed solar power polls so well – is that it creates a lot of local jobs that create significant local benefits for ratepayers and supporting business. As well, from a fundamentally July 4th type of perspective, solar power really should have a footprint that is far and wide – not fully centralized – because that’s what “the people” need and want.

However, there are more focused challenges in this conglomerate of movements that the Green New Deal pushes and that tangle together in Los Angeles. We have a young political class in the country that seeks separation of the corporations from control of the politics via their vast fossil fuel funds, as well, wanting to clean our planet to protect against the potential ravages of climate change.

This has led to aggressive pushback from unions, those who might be considered under the umbrella of Green New Deal proponents. On March 8 the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee sent a sharply worded letter to Green New Deal sponsors U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) describing the proposal as a “threat” to their members’ jobs and families’ standards of living:

The Green New Deal resolution is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our member and the critical sectors of our economy. It is not rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.

The political-energy-economic-social-climate-etc mixing that is going on within this topic makes for a quite complex dance that will have to be played out as various actors move toward the table protecting their interests.

One day though, we’ll look back and wonder why we fought over the below technology when we could have a battery that is a building.