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July 19, 2008

Green Path North Meeting With LADWP

The crowd at the community meeting in Yucca Valley High School this morning arranged by the LADWP was about as big as the one that showed up at the meeting last October that was organized by the anti-Green Path North people. The main differences are that the LADWP was at this meeting, most of the crowd was more informed, and some were out for blood.

Front and center at the meeting was David Nahai (photo here), Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He speaks with an accent from somewhere in the British Commonwealth (maybe it's just BBC), that I eventually recognized as a voice I'd heard on KCRW's Which Way L.A. program a couple of times. He appeared on that program in April last year to discuss Green Path North as part of getting geothermal energy to Los Angeles, and again this past May to discuss water conservation.

An article in LAMag.com that tells of his upbringing and how he came to this powerful position.

An interview with Mr. Nahai in LA Weekly.

The LADWP is perceived as behind the curve on renewable energy compared to other state utilities, such as Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric. What's gone wrong in the past that has kept Los Angeles from bringing in more green power?

I think when you say "behind the curve," it depends on whether you're talking about total numbers, total percentage or pace of change. If you're talking about pace of change, we're ahead of everybody. Just in the last two years since the mayor appointed the new commission, we've almost tripled our renewables, from under 3 percent to 8 percent. I don't know that anybody else has accomplished that pace of change.

Uh-huh, it's like Mr. Nahai wants to win the "Most Improved" award. If you start at the bottom, it's easy to have the greatest pace of change when trying to catch up.

Here in Ron Kaye's weblog Mr. Nahai is said to be close friends with the IBEW union that represents 95% of its workers.

Mr. Nahai "is" a weblogger at Huffington Post, if your definition of "is" is such that one weblog post in May 2007 makes you a weblogger — not that I'm trying to set any standards for weblogging.

Mr. Nahai's big, main point at today's meeting in the Yucca Valley High School auditorium is that there have been substantial changes at LADWP and with its plans in the year and a half since the Green Path North project first floated up to public attention. People at LADWP have died, people have retired, he's been appointed. They "took back" the whole Green Path North proposal that we are already familiar with. They re-examined it, and now they're coming forward with their new ideas. Rather than focusing on the route through the high desert, he says they are considering six possible routes, which really boil down to three routes, each of which has a couple of variations.

All routes start at what they call "Devers II," a proposed new substation near the Devers substation, west of Desert Hot Springs. Desert Hot Springs is the only city that's in every version of the Green Path North plan. I expect we'll hear from an LADWP representative some day at a city council meeting, or maybe at a CVAG meeting. Here's a Google satellite view of the Devers substation. That dark line you see running diagonally a little southwest of Devers is a surface feature of the Banning Branch of the San Andreas fault.

The three basic routes are (1) along I-10, (2) the high desert, or (3) an outlandish plan that I think is included just so it can look like they've got a bunch of plans. Number three would run EAST from Devers along I-10 going south of Joshua Tree National Park, and then head northeast along an existing utility corridor to near Parker Dam and then turn to head west, following utility corridors to Hesperia.

Another change from LADWP is that they came out and removed all the survey markers that they surreptitiously put in a couple of years ago and then denied. Mr. Nahai apologized for that and the closed process that had been previously used.

He spent a lot of time talking of the necessity for green renewable power, a point no one could disagree with. The crowd was there only to hear why LADWP wouldn't use the I-10 route and why they think they can get away with using the high desert route. He said the total potential for California solar power was only 81 megawatts. He didn't qualify or explain that at all. He said there is a potential 2000 megawatts of geothermal power available at the Salton Sea. Later Brian Brady, General Manager of the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), said that 500 megawatts are currently being generated by geothermal at the Salton Sea. Mr. Brady also said the Salton Sea area had a potential to generate 30,000 megawatts of solar power, which is considerably greater than what Mr. Nahai had said.

Since the October meeting, LADWP has started to get its shit together on greening up its own act. They are now distributing compact fluorescent lights, something other power suppliers have been doing for a decade. They've started a rebate program to replace old refrigerators with newer, more efficient ones. They have only just now started on a tiered rate scheme! I didn't know there was a power company anywhere that didn't have tiered rates, charging higher rates to bigger users. How wrong I was.

We also heard from Bill Carnahan, Executive Director of Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA), which includes LADWP, IID and the electric utilities of nine other southern California cities including Riverside and Banning. He said that eventually SCPPA may become the lead agency for Green Path North rather than LADWP.

Then we got a slide show (AKA, "Powerpoint") from Chuck Holloway of LADWP's Environmental Affairs Department; bullet lists and maps. And that's where they finally, finally got down to talking about the I-10 route.

Here's what Mr. Holloway and Mr. Nahai said about the I-10 route: they are talking to Southern California Edison (SCE) about the route. They are having monthly meetings with SCE. Mr. Nahai repeated many times that they are having these monthly meetings. "We are having monthly meetings with Edison," he would say. But he would never say the meetings were focusing on getting access to the I-10 route. Nor did he say any progress was being made at the meetings. He did not characterize the meetings in any way except to say they were monthly. For all we know, the LADWP and Edison have been having monthly meetings since Mulholland was running the show.

The I-10 route would NOT cost more than the high desert route, according to Mr. Nahai. This statement brought an astonished gasp from the crowd. Too bad he saved it until near the end of the meeting. No, he says the problem with the I-10 route is that SCE may not be "able" to give them access to the full route. They could get as far as about Redlands, but urban congestion past that point could present insurmountable problems. One variation on the I-10 route is to go that far and then turn north and follow a path where the urban area abutts the San Bernadino National Forest. Besides being unsightly, that route could almost be guaranteed to trigger some big forest fires.

Then we moved into a long comment/question and answer period. Despite his experience in public service, Mr. Nahai expressed some annoyance and frustration and occasionally became defensive at the fact that several people were not there to listen but only to say their piece, a piece which they may have mentally written well before this meeting and did not acknowledge what Mr. Nahai considers his own great openness and sensitivity to environmental issues. Mr. Nahai had better get used to that, or else just send PR flunkies to future meetings.

The comments and questions covered the whole range...well, maybe I should say half the range - from concern through rage to borderline psychosis. No one got up to praise the LADWP position. Someone representing just about every high desert entity got up to say something. The only unrepresented groups were National Park Service Rangers, but we did have a questioner from the National Parks Conservation Association to cover that base. Also, there were no comments from anyone who could claim to represent CVAG. They've certainly got a dog in this fight, since the Devers II substation is close to or in what will be MSHCP lands west of DHS.

The best insane commentary came from a gentleman who started out by reminding us that we all knew the global warming problem encompasses the entire Solar System and we had better be taking a look at what's going on across the galaxy. He went on to say something about the decay rates of protons and electrons, I think, but it was hard to follow him since most of his "sentences" lacked verbs. Nonetheless, I think he got the biggest applause of all commenters.

We heard a prepared written speech delivered by someone representing the Alliance For Responsible Energy Policy. Questioners were limited to 3 minutes, and he acknowledged that his would take 6 minutes, whereupon a couple of other people who had had their hands up agreed to give up their time for him. All nice and fair, but it was a bloviated speech that I could have easily condensed to less than three minutes. It began with all the usual accusations and recommended local solar and wind power. The speaker said the group opposed all transmission lines and power generation facilities. Now, maybe he forgot to insert the word "new" in there, but he was carefully reading the written speech, so I think he meant what he said. Of course, if they really oppose geothermal plants, solar and wind farms as well as transmission lines, that group won't get much of a say in any energy negotiations by anybody.

One questioner asked about local benefits, specifically "What's in it for us?" Mr. Nahai said he didn't know what the local benefits were, but that LADWP would be involved in lengthy public discussions. It sounded like he was about to hint that maybe LADWP would kick in for some local benefits, but he was cut off by the howls of the crowd.

A Desert Hot Springs resident (didn't catch the name) got up to ask about nuclear power. Earlier, Green Path North was to be used primarily to carry nuclear power from Arizona to Los Angeles. Mr. Nahai said that LADWP had completely revised its plans for the source of the power. No nuclear-generated electricity would go via Green Path North. He said 100% of the electricity carried on Green Path North would be green, renewable energy. The great majority of it would be geothermal, but eventually more solar would come on-line. I wondered why Mr. Nahai hadn't made this positive point earlier in the meeting.

A later questioner pointed out that someday the geothermal could run out and the solar might be inadequate, but the powerlines, wherever they ran, would always be there and he didn't believe that the LADWP could guarantee in perpetuity that those lines would carry only green power. I certainly agree with that point. No one made the additional point that there would be no effective way to monitor this process. Maybe new lines from the southern end of the Salton Sea to Devers II would carry 100% green power, but who could know how it was switched around at Devers II?

Dean Gray of the Desert Valley Star got the mic and spoke for only a moment to point out that all the plans depended on Devers II and new power lines that would go across the area where Desert Hot Springs is hoping to put its future commercial growth and that LADWP would be crippling a small city. He then directly handed the mic and the balance of his time to DHS City Councilmember Russell Betts who had been standing at his side. Mr. Betts said that rather than focusing on the process as Mr. Nahai would have us do, we should stay focused on the end result which, he said, should be to assure that these power lines go down I-10 and not across the high desert. He said that the LADWP is asking the people of the desert to subsidize their project by sacrificing land and beauty. Mr. Betts is invited to include his complete comments here, if he likes.

We also had commenters from Wildlands Conservancy, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, San Bernardino County, the Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency and everybody else involved.

One woman got up to ask if a survey had been made to count all the buildings three stories and taller in Los Angeles and couldn't they be used to "store" solar power. She did say "store," but since there is no economical way to store massive quantities of any kind of electric power yet, maybe she meant "generate."

Filed under California,Green Path North | permalink | July 19, 2008 at 07:04 PM


Here's the Riverside County Board of Supervisors resolution opposing Green Path North [PDF]. The main focus of the resolution is the MSHCP and protecting its territory from Devers II and the transmission lines.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 29, 2008 4:01:34 PM

For those who might not have seen the other website for stopping this terrible project:

Posted by: Joe Banks at Jul 24, 2008 7:22:52 AM

Here's the report on the meeting from KPCC.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 23, 2008 11:03:16 PM

The report on the meeting by the Victorville Daily Press.

"I didn't have to come here today," Nahai said after a representative from the Alliance for Responsible Energy Policy read a letter of protest, suggesting the department knows that local energy production is the most effective.

"I don't think it's right, you don't even know me. To call someone disingenuous ... He claims that I know this is not the better way, if that's true, then what am I doing here?" Nahai said.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 22, 2008 9:29:44 PM

Here's the Press-Enterprise story on the community meeting.

I have yet to see a report on the meeting in The Desert Sun. Every area newspaper was there, and I recognized the camera man from Channel 2 as well, but I am beginning to suspect that The Desert Sun didn't even bother to send a reporter. Who's their reporter usually assigned to the high desert?

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 21, 2008 2:50:37 PM

I just noticed that both the Desert Sun and Desert Local News call it the "Green Plan North." Leslie and Mariecar have been spending too much time together.

Screen grabs: Desert Sun and Desert Local News.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 21, 2008 1:56:36 PM

A couple of things I forgot to mention:

Sometimes in his moments of frustration Mr. Nahai spoke a bit hastily. He's not a slick PR expert, nor a diplomat. An example was when he said "Look, I didn't have to come here." I think he may have meant that if he wasn't seeking input and cooperation he wouldn't have come to Yucca Valley. But the way it sounded to the crowd was "the LADWP doesn't have to come out and ask for your cooperation, we can just take what we want."

Second, even though there were as many blue recycling bins as regular trash bins around the auditorium and outside, there were LOTS of empty plastic water bottles tossed carelessly into the trash. Now, maybe these all came from the secret and silent supporters of the LADWP, but they must have been drinking a lot of water (nervous thirst?). Otherwise, we would be forced to think that all those people who want to protect the beauty of the desert can't be bothered to put even the least effort into recycling.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 20, 2008 9:28:31 PM

The Hi-Desert Star report on the meeting can be found here.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 20, 2008 8:32:27 PM

Ah, I didn't catch it that Nahai promised only that LADWP wouldn't put fossil-fuel generated power on the line. A smaller empty promise than I first heard.

As for the routes, yeah, we'd already seen those a zillion times.

@marty, yes there maps a-plenty. We got handouts, but let me go find some on the web for you. At the California Desert Coalition website you can find this map [PDF] which was prepared by LADWP. It shows roughly the six routes. This is the information shown at Saturday's community meeting. The California Desert Coalition site is not well organized. I don't believe there are any links on the front page that will lead you to the page of maps. If Donna hadn't posted it I wouldn't have found it.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 20, 2008 10:45:58 AM

Ron - great reporting. Do you know if there are any maps of the proposed paths?

Posted by: marty at Jul 20, 2008 6:23:32 AM

Some insightful reporting of the LADWP meeting, but spin master Nahai slipped a couple of big ones over on the audience that are reflected in this report. David Nahai did not say "100% of the electricity carried on Green Path North would be green, renewable energy." He carefully wordsmithed his statement and said that 100% of the electricity LA put on Green Path North would be renewable energy. The audience missed the distinction because they didn't connect to the idea that GPN will be used by other parties, such as the other SCPPA power agencies involved in the project.

The June 2 update to LADWP's BLM application, much touted by Nahai as a turning point to a new way of looking at GPN, states, "LADWP has pledged that its own use of GPNP will be restricted exclusively to energy produced from renewable energy sources." In December 2007 Nahai had categorically told the LA Weekly "There’ll be ...no fossil fuels on that line." So, the June 2 BLM update is a turning point all right, a turning in the wrong direction towards opening up GPN to dirty energy.

And, those 6 alternative routes Nahai touted at the meeting in Yucca Valley as being a new turning point for LADWP thinking on GPN, well they're not new at all. LADWP submitted these same routes to the BLM in June or July 2007, most likely at the request of the BLM to provide alternates to the one preferred route LADWP initially submitted in its December 2006 right-of-way application. Check out the 11 June 2007 LADWP alternate route map (submitted to BLM) at http://www.cadesertco.org/cdc_maps.html (it's the 3rd map down on the page).

Posted by: Donna at Jul 19, 2008 10:35:05 PM

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