By Erin Stone
Published Dec 12, 2023 1:51 PM
Pasadena City Council voted unanimously to approve a plan to unhook from fossil fuel electricity as soon as 2030, but the details remain murky for how the city will make the jump from 55% carbon-free energy in 2028 to 100% by 2030.
Pasadena still runs on some of the most coal power — the dirtiest fossil fuel — of any city in the Southland due to a long-term contract with a coal plant in Utah. How much the city gets from coal tends to vary from about 20% to nearly 50%, depending on the year.
The city’s contract with the coal plant ends in 2025, at which point the city’s main energy supply switches to methane gas, another planet-heating gas. That’s why a grassroots coalition of local residents, called Pasadena 100, organized in 2018 to push the city to accelerate transitioning its energy supply to cleaner power sources, such as solar and wind.
Their efforts led to the city council voting unanimously in January to declare a climate emergency and set a policy goal of 100% carbon-free energy by 2030.
But what’s happened since shows that declaring such a goal is easier than meeting it. The city has spent more than $700,000 on contractors to sort out how to meet that goal. A final vote on the IRP was pushed in October to give staff time to revisit the plan and better align it with the 2030 goal. But, ultimately, little changed — at Monday’s city council meeting, council members agreed the goal was unlikely to be met with current cost and infrastructure challenges. The city is planning to have procured 55% of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2028, according to its new IRP, but the rest will still be from methane gas.
“Right now based on the technology at scale, 2030 is not feasible,” said Councilmember Felicia Williams, who chairs the Municipal Services Committee, which is tasked with working with staff to develop the IRP.
Some of the main barriers to the 100% carbon-free by 2030 goal include:
The competition for contracts for carbon-free power sources such as solar and wind is leading to higher prices (and higher electricity rates) as the demand outpaces the buildout of such sources.
Limitations on the buildout of transmission lines to get that renewable power to Pasadena from the state’s grid.
A power bottleneck at Pasadena’s Goodrich power substation, which is set to be expanded so it can handle more electricity by 2032.
A lack of local solar generation on rooftops and elsewhere.
Dozens of community members spoke during public comment to urge the city to revisit the plan and be more innovative in its approach to rate hikes as well as clean energy incentives, such as encouraging the adoption of rooftop solar.
“Some may say that we're just one city and what action can we really do here? The reality is that our neighboring cities, our entire state, our entire country, and the world is looking for somebody, anybody, perhaps us, to lead,” said Sam Berndt, a member of Pasadena 100.
Councilmember Jason Lyon said the city’s work to meet its goal doesn’t stop with the approval of this IRP.
“I don't think the IRP as written is as responsive as we can be to the state of [climate] emergency in which we find ourselves,” said Councilmember Jason Lyon. “That said, I think we've taken this document about as far as it can go.”
The city next plans to study equitable rate structures and to develop a more detailed plan for the jump in cutting fossil fuel power sources between 2028 and 2030.