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Guest Opinion | Vice Mayor Felicia Williams: Pasadena is Committed to Addressing the Climate Emergency and to Carbon-Free Energy


Published on Monday, October 9, 2023 | 7:20 pm

Pasadena is committed to addressing the climate emergency and to carbon-free energy – we need your input for an inclusive path to achieve our goals.

In January 2023 the City Council adopted Resolution No. 9977 declaring a climate emergency and setting a goal of 100% carbon-free energy by 2030. As a committed environmentalist with a zero net energy home (no clothes dryer!), EV driver for 10 years, and avid drought-tolerant landscaper, I was ecstatic that the City Council worked with community groups and Pasadena Water & Power (PWP) to make this commitment. As an environmentalist, I can make sole financial decisions for my home. But, as an elected official I am committed to hearing from everyone to guide our decision on policies that will affect your electric bills.

Declaring a climate emergency allows the City to address all sources of greenhouse emissions, including transportation (38% of GHG emissions) and electric generation (16% of GHG emissions) (Source: CA Air Resources Board). By setting a goal of 100% carbon-free energy by 2030, earlier than the State’s renewable/zero-carbon energy deadline of 2045, we underscored Pasadena’s commitment to addressing climate change.

In the past year, PWP signed two new renewable energy contracts totaling $442 million and issued a request for battery storage proposals to help meet our ambitious goal. During the same period Department of Transportation (DOT) has received $110 million in grants for a new transit operations facility, zero emission buses, hydrogen fueling station, and even an electric bus to Angeles Crest – the Mt. Wilson Express!

Given the many concerns we have heard from residents and small businesses about the rising cost of goods and housing, our City’s carbon-free energy goal also seeks to balance affordability of electric rates and reliability. On an annual basis, PWP expects to be 100% renewable by 2027, meeting the State’s mandate before the 2045 deadline. PWP is presenting a plan on Tuesday at the Council’s Municipal Services Committee to get us to 100% carbon-free by 2030 along with the cost and potential impacts on reliability.

The first hurdle is cost. In terms of the cost of energy (about 50% of your bill, including Power Delivery Master Plan upgrades approved in June 2022), PWP projects over the next 6 years 12-23% annual rate increases to meet our carbon-free goal by 2030. These increases may be tolerable for some, but PWP currently has $8 million in unpaid utility bills post-pandemic (compared to $100,000 before COVID-19) and the majority are non-subsidized residential customers (Source: MSC meeting agenda October 10, 2023).

The second hurdle is reliability (i.e. avoiding blackouts). The elephant in the room is the Glenarm natural gas power plant located at the end of the 110 freeway. The plant runs mostly on hot days (like this weekend!) and, unlike other sources of power, can be turned on quickly to prevent blackouts. For this reason the State has required the Glenarm plant as a critical resource in the region to ensure reliability.

I met one of the carbon-free energy advocates in my neighborhood last weekend and asked her to help us work on transportation because it generates most of our greenhouse gases. Her answer was that transportation was “too difficult.” For once I can put both my environmentalist and elected official hats on and say that WE NEED TO DO WHAT’S DIFFICULT. We need to come together as a community, listen to everyone’s concerns, and find an inclusive path to carbon free that works for everybody. Are you up for the challenge? Then I hope you can submit your comments here for our meeting on Tuesday. Thanks!

Felicia Williams, Vice Mayor of Pasadena and Chair of the Municipal Services Committee

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