LA Renters Have Been Shut Out Of Solar. That's About To Change

LADWP's Shared Solar program is designed to close that gap by prioritizing low-income Angelenos and renters. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Until now, it's been almost impossible for renters in Los Angeles to access solar energy. Rooftops are controlled by landlords, who may or may not be interested in renewable power.

But that's about to change.

A new Los Angeles Department of Water and Power program called Shared Solar would let renters buy electricity from solar panels installed on government buildings around the city — no rooftop or landlord permission required.

WHY IS LADWP DOING THIS?

L.A.'s renters have largely been shut out of the good karma and long-term savings that come with solar power.

"The solar market has focused on those that have the capital to buy the solar and install it on their residence or on their commercial properties, and renters don't have the legal rights to do that, or the capital," said Allison Mannos with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

And because L.A. is a city of renters — 63 percent of housing units are rented while just 37 percent are owner occupied — that means a ton of people have been shut out of solar.

It's not just renter equity; low-income Angelenos have also been shut out, according to Jason Rondeau, LADWP's manager of strategic development and programs. He said the vast majority of solar installations have happened in higher income areas like West L.A. and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

The Shared Solar program is designed to close that gap by prioritizing low-income Angelenos and renters.

Also, LADWP has a goal of getting 55 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025, and this program will help get the utility closer.

Higher income areas, like West L.A. and portions of the San Fernando Valley, have received more LADWP incentives and have more installed solar power than lower income areas in the city. (Map courtesy LAANE)

HOW CAN I GET IN ON THIS?

To qualify, you must be an LADWP customer, and you must live in a multi-family apartment building. Condo owners are eligible, as long as you're in an apartment building or duplex.

Shared Solar will be open to 13,000 customers once it begins in January 2019. But first, it has to pass the LADWP's Board of Commissioners (which is voting on it Tuesday) and the L.A. City Council. Once it does, there will be an online application form and lots of email outreach by LADWP.

WILL IT SAVE ME MONEY?

Initially, no, but in the long term, yes.

The new solar rate is one penny per kilowatt hour more expensive than the current LADWP residential rates. But over time, LADWP's rates will rise, whereas the solar rate will stay the same.

If you don't make very much money, however, you may be able to quality for a discounted solar rate. The idea is to make solar cheaper than regular power for low-income Angelenos. But that's contingent on whether the utility gets state and federal grants to help cover those costs.

WILL ALL OF MY ELECTRICITY COME FROM SOLAR?

No. You can buy a certain amount of power each month — either 50 or 100 kilowatts — that is guaranteed to come from solar panels. Beyond that, you're getting the regular mix of power from the grid, and paying the regular rate. But a lot of LADWP's regular mix is renewable — 29 percent in 2016.

WHERE WILL THE SOLAR COME FROM?

Two sources: locally and from big solar farms in the desert.

Locally, panels will be installed on city and LADWP buildings. There's one already going up on a LADWP building in the San Fernando Valley, and the Green Meadows Recreation Center, an L.A. Recreation and Parks facility in South L.A. Added perk: there will be electric car chargers at each location.

Electricity will also come from big solar farms in the desert because large-scale solar is still more cost effective than from local panels.

I ALREADY PAY FOR GREEN POWER. HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT?

Green Power is a program where you can choose how much of your electricity comes from renewable sources (including solar, wind, hydro and others) up to 100 percent. Importantly, the Green Power rate is three cents more than the regular electricity rate.

Shared Solar, meanwhile, is entirely solar power. It's also cheaper than the Green Power rate, and has the potential to save you money over time as LADWP's rates rise, unlike Green Power.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.


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