Why Los Angeles May Be Left Behind In California’s Solar Revolution


Los Angeles has a significant trained workforce ready to perform clean-energy solar jobs, but city leaders have so far failed to enact policies that would take advantage of this resource, according to a new study jointly authored by teams from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC).

Further, the study found that the areas in Los Angeles with the greatest potential for rooftop solar power – and, thus, the greatest capacity to support solar-related jobs – include many areas suffering from high unemployment and economic need.

‘Unless civic leaders ramp up efforts to expand solar programs, the city and region face the prospect of being left behind,’ the report's authors wrote. ‘This report is, above all, a wake-up call to policymakers to make certain they are utilizing an important workforce segment – and creating policies that will put qualified people to work.’

According to the report, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has one of the weakest solar track records among major California utilities, generating less than one-sixth as much solar power per customer as the state leader, Southern California Edison.

The report urges officials to adopt a solar feed-in tariff. Such a program has been endorsed by a coalition of environmental groups, labor leaders, business organizations and other stakeholders.

The UCLA and USC research teams had previously established the need for a rooftop solar program in Los Angeles and its potential to benefit low-income Angelenos. A robust program could create $2 billion in local investment and create 16,000 job-years with a minimal impact on ratepayers, according to the researchers.

The region's significant number of ready-to-work solar professionals is the result of plentiful local training programs, run by organizations as varied as Homeboy Industries, IBEW Local 11, and the Los Angeles Trade and Technical College. Roughly 2,200 people are trained each year in Los Angeles County alone for jobs in solar panel installation, design, sales and other areas, the report says.

Through the use of advanced mapping techniques, USC researchers were able to determine the areas of greatest solar potential – primarily, those sections of Los Angeles with a high density of large rooftops, whether commercial, industrial or multifamily residential. Further, they were able to overlay those areas with those communities suffering from high unemployment and high poverty.

The result is a clear picture of which areas stand to gain the most from expanded solar development – and also those that have the greatest need. Solar ‘hot spots’ exist in the San Fernando Valley, eastern Los Angeles and areas west of downtown, including Hollywood. In many cases, solar training programs are located near these hot spots and near areas of great need, the report found.

Additionally, UCLA analyzed the performance of California utilities in generating solar power under the California Solar Initiative, or SB 1. In addition to determining that the LADWP lags far behind other local utilities in generating solar power, researchers found that the city-owned utility also ranks nearly last in the cost per solar job created. Whereas Burbank could create one job-year at a cost of $36,000, LADWP's cost was more than $129,000.

In response to these findings, the report calls for making use of federal and state subsidies to grow the emerging solar market, channeling benefits to disadvantaged communities, engaging a multi-sector workforce-development partnership, advocating for continued funding of green training programs, and other tactics.

The full report, titled ‘Empowering LA's Solar Workforce: New Policies that Deliver Investments and Jobs,’ will be formally released at the LA Business Council's Building LA's Workforce Summit at UCLA on Nov. 16. It can also be downloaded here.

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