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A Place in the Sun

No one is left out of the nation’s biggest solar feed-in tariff program after PERE steps in.

The Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), housed at USC Dornsife, contributed to reports that ensured low-income communities of color would have access to the benefits of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's solar rooftop feed-in tariff program. Workers are seen here installing solar panels on a building. Photo courtesy of Fort Dix/U.S. Army Environmental Command.
The Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), housed at USC Dornsife, contributed to reports that ensured low-income communities of color would have access to the benefits of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's solar rooftop feed-in tariff program. Workers are seen here installing solar panels on a building. Photo courtesy of Fort Dix/U.S. Army Environmental Command.

Gleaming rows of solar panels lined the rooftop of the Oxnard Plaza Apartments in North Hollywood, Calif. Then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa flipped a switch to “on.”

The June 2013 event marked the first solar installation connected to the city’s power grid as part of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Feed-In Tariff Program. The largest rooftop solar feed-in tariff program in the United States, it is slated to generate 150 megawatts of clean, renewable solar energy. That is enough energy to power more than 43,000 single-family homes and reduce 147 metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere — the equivalent of removing 28,300 cars from roads.

Many of the homes and businesses benefiting from the feed-in tariff are located in low-income areas thanks in part to USC Dornsife’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE).

For years, organizations in Los Angeles have searched for solutions to meet California’s mandate to produce 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, reducing the state’s reliance on coal-produced energy. Their plan was to harness the power of one of California’s most bountiful, natural resources: nearly year-round sunshine.

To that end, the Los Angeles Business Council (LABC) and the CLEAN L.A. Coalition sought to put in place a feed-in tariff program. A feed-in tariff would allow the LADWP to pay households and businesses a set price for the renewable energy they generate from rooftop solar panels. The council and coalition approached PERE to help determine how to address economically distressed areas with solar potential to ensure equal access to the program.

A previous program targeted higher income Los Angeles businesses and residents. Called the California Solar Initiative, it permitted households and businesses to install solar systems to offset their annual energy load. The program tapped into a select area of Los Angeles area businesses and residents who could afford the upfront costs of solar. The feed-in tariff would expand benefits to a greater population of the city, said Mary Leslie, LABC president.

“Our goal was to include all types of properties in the solar rooftop market,” Leslie said.

Partnering with UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other entities, PERE and its team contributed to two crucial reports commissioned by the LABC. One studied the potential market for a solar feed-in tariff program in Los Angeles. The other investigated the potential workforce to install panels once a tariff was established.

“We found out that many apartment units and industrial units that had significant solar potential were actually in low-income communities of color,” professor Manuel Pastor, PERE director, said.

The reports also showed that high-need areas are not only hotspots of solar potential, but are in close proximity to a number of solar panel installation training programs, which educate a well-trained workforce. Those workers could also benefit from a robust tariff program, which would drive job development in the city resulting in market growth, Pastor said.

With the city’s solar rooftop program, the pieces fell into place ensuring that disadvantaged communities would access the feed-in tariff. The kickoff event at the North Hollywood rooftop also signified that the local, trained workforce would be put to work.

“Beyond those two elements, what was significant for us was that we were able to bridge the gap between environmentalists, business leaders and communities of color,” Pastor said. “Our analysis helped make the case about how everyone could benefit from solar energy.”

Read about how residents in low-income communities in Los Angeles County are benefiting from the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), based at USC Dornsife.

Read more stories from USC Dornsife Magazine's Fall 2013-Winter 2014 issue