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LA's Solar Power, Green Jobs Potential Largely Untapped

Andrew Burger headshotWords by Andrew Burger
Energy & Environment

World Bank financing has help put solar power systems on more than 300,000 homes and small businesses in Bangladesh. Working with its local partners, the World Bank's International Development Association IDA's Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Project (RERED), is aiming to boost that to more than 1 million with an additional $172 million credit facility.

Imagine what could be done here in the US if local, state and the federal government really got behind and supported solar and renewable energy. A lot of potential lies untapped, in many cases solely due to a lack of political will and determination.

An academic study conducted by researchers from UCLA and USC found that there's a wealth of untapped human resources in LA just waiting to be employed in the solar energy industry. City and civic leaders have thus far failed to enact policies that would take advantage of it, however.
Presented at the Los Angeles Business Council (LABC) Institute on Tuesday, "Empowering LA’s Solar Workforce: New Policies that Deliver Investments and Jobs,"says that areas offering the greatest rooftop solar power potential, and hence the greatest capacity for solar industry job creation, are also areas suffering from high unemployment and a gross lack of economic development initiatives.

“Unless civic leaders ramp up efforts to expand solar programs, the city and region face the prospect of being left behind,” the report authors write. “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.”

The lack of political initiative in LA is ironic, and particularly disheartening, given that California as a state has been a nationwide leader when it comes to enacting strong, pro-renewable energy policies, including a target of generating 33 percent of statewide energy from renewable sources by 2020.

In stark contrast, "our region lacks sound policies to meet these goals and employ ready green economy workers," the report states. "The Los Angeles Dept. 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."

Tapping LA's Solar Power Potential

The research team urges city officials to enact a solar power feed-in tariff (FiT) that would stimulate solar power system installations by enabling city businesses and residents on their rooftops to sell surplus energy to the local utility.

The FiT concept has been used to tremendous success in Germany, which has made itself into a world leader in both solar power production and consumption, though it's also led to a boom-bust cycle in others, such as Spain.

Structured carefully and monitored effectively, a solar FiT could create $2 billion in local investment and create 16,000 job-years with a minimal impact on ratepayers," according to the research team, which was led by J.R. DeShazo of the UCLA Luskin Center and Manuel Pastor of the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity.

Training programs by the likes of Homeboy Industries, IBEW Local 11 and the Los Angeles Trade and Technical College make LA a city and region with a "significant number of ready-to-work solar professionals," according to the report. Some 2,200 people a year are trained in solar power installation, design, sales and other areas in Los Angeles County alone, the authors note.

“What’s so compelling about this research is that it matches the need for good, local jobs and the mandate for clean, renewable energy,” said Los Angeles Business Council President Mary Leslie, whose group has been pushing for a robust rooftop solar program ever since Mayor Villaraigosa called for it three years ago. “We were astonished to see how cleanly the job-creation potential, the social equity aspect and the environmental imperative go hand-in-hand.”

* Photo Courtesy of UCLA Newsroom

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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