However, some consumers are expressing skepticism because the DWP has a sketchy track record dating back to a previous pilot. Businessman Jack Engel, who has solar inverters installed at a commercial warehouse he owns, told the Los Angeles Times, “I like the idea of solar, but unfortunately my experience is that the DWP doesn’t support it. The conversation is one thing, the reality is another.”
The DWP’s earlier solar pilot, called net-metering, was beset by organizational inefficiencies and dreadful customer service. This left consumers like Engel believing the utility really isn’t interested in saving its customers money or facilitating buying back renewable energy. Considering Los Angeles consumes one tenth of the entire state’s consumption, the feed-in-tariff is critical to energy management.
DWP’s general manager Ron Nichols acknowledges there were long delays and poor customer service during the first pilot but stressed that was then and this is now. “As an organization, we’ve made a commitment to turn that around.”
The DWP was the first major California utility to reduce carbon-based energy use by 20 percent, thanks to power-generating wind plants. Gov. Jerry Brown has now called for a 32 percent reduction by 2020. Solar will go a long way in helping DWP meet that mandate.
The new program offers commercial warehouse owners and multifamily buildings a 20-year-contracts to sell excess energy back to DWP. The typical residential solar systems are not large enough to meet the 30-kilowatt minimum to qualify.
In the pilot phase, DWP is contracting for 10 megawatts of solar power so it can make sure the pilot runs smoothly. The plan is to expand to 75 megawatts by 2014 and 150 megawatts by 2016. In choosing participants, the DWP is hoping to help low-income neighborhoods that would benefit from jobs and DWP contracts related to the solar installation.