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United States

Utility moves away from coal addiction

The Los Angeles Board of Commissioners is expected to approve this month a contract between the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and Delaware's Wind Turbine Prometheus LLC to build a 120 MW wind power project in the Mojave Desert, reducing what one environmental advocate describes as the city's appalling reliance on fossil fuel generation.

LADWP, the largest municipal electric utility in the US with 1.8 million customers, has one of the nation's most deplorable mix of energy resources, says Martin Schlageter of the Coalition for Clean Air. "LADWP is very dependent on polluting power sources," he says, pointing to the utility's resource mix that includes more than 50% coal, with nuclear and gas making up most of the remaining resources.

Construction of the Pine Tree Wind Project, which will consist of 80 GE 1.5 MW wind turbines spread across about 22,000 acres of land near the town of Mojave, still has to be approved by the Los Angeles city council. It will increase the renewable portion of the mix from 2.2% to 3.6%. Even then, LADWP will trail other utilities in California, which get about 12% of their energy from renewables. The Coalition for Clean Air, along with other pressure groups, is pushing the utility to adopt a renewables standard that at least equals the 20% by 2017 target passed by the California legislature in September 2002.

During debate in the legislature, LADWP lobbied for public utilities to be exempt from the standard, which they were. The legislation, however, did suggest that municipal utilities establish their own objectives, says LADWP's Henry Martinez. He says the Los Angeles city council has begun to set those standards under the leadership of Mayor Jim Hahn.

While Martinez predicts the city will eventually arrive at standards similar to the state renewables portfolio standard (RPS), its goals may instead target cleaner air in the Los Angeles basin, which is often hit with air quality alerts. "The state RPS concentrates on new generation goals, but we may have conservation and air emissions objectives to get to the same place," he says, adding: "This wind project signals that the door is open for change at the department that until now has been addicted to coal." The utility also has gas generators within the city. "When they get fired up, so do our air quality regulators, so it is really important to develop alternatives," Schlageter says. "The coalition and others in the area are beating the drum and we want to eventually match if not lead the state."

Wind Turbine Prometheus LLC, a partnership between Zilkha Renewable Energy of Texas and California's Prometheus Energy Services, will break ground this autumn on the $163 million project. LADWP expects the project to deliver energy in July 2004.

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