Los Angeles will become the biggest U.S. city to abandon coal-fueled electricity after the taxpayer- owned utility said it will support renewable sources, boost energy efficiency and build a new natural-gas fired plant.
The city’s Department of Water and Power, the nation’s largest municipal-owned utility, will phase out the electricity it imports from the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona and Intermountain Power in Utah, according to a statement yesterday. The two coal plants provide 39 percent of the city’s power.
“The era of coal is over,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement. “By divesting from coal and investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, we reduce our carbon footprint and set a precedent for the national power market.”
Los Angeles, the nation’s second-most populous metropolitan area after New York, has cut greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 28 percent from 1990 levels, which it says is more than any other major U.S. city. Coal releases twice the carbon dioxide as natural gas per megawatt of power produced, and climate advocates have seized on phasing out its use as the necessary first step in addressing global warming.
Coal generation in the U.S. is under mounting pressure from cheap natural gas prices, tougher federal pollution standards, state-level energy efficiency requirements and activist lobbying.
Coal accounted for 37 percent of power generation last year, down from 45 percent in 2010 and almost 50 percent in 2005, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The Sierra Club, which has a Beyond Coal campaign, said 142 U.S. coal-fired power plants have closed during its efforts, representing 105 gigawatts of electrical capacity. That puts it more than halfway towards its goal of retiring 30 percent of the U.S. coal fleet by 2020.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $50 million to the Sierra Club 18 months ago to fund anti-coal efforts. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
The Los Angeles utility released a fact sheet that showed it will sell off the stake it has in the Navajo facility, and end using power from that plant by 2015. It doesn’t own a share of the Utah plant, and so it said it worked out a plan to shut the coal plant and construct a smaller natural-gas fueled facility. Construction of that plant should be completed by 2025, the city’s fact sheet said.
The “decision to end Los Angeles’ reliance on dirty coal and guide the city to a more sustainable future is a bold step on the path towards solving the climate crisis,” former vice president Al Gore said in a statement.