Cities stack their energy portfolio

It’s a tale of two cities in two very different positions as the utilities in Burbank and Glendale work to meet strict state mandates for using renewable energy.

At 21%, Glendale Water & Power is ahead of schedule in hitting the first benchmark — that public utilities must get 20% of their power from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal, by Dec. 31, 2013.

Steve Lins, assistant general manager of supplies, told the Glendale City Council on Tuesday that the utility was “well on track.”

“We’re way ahead of the game,” he said.

It’s a different story in Burbank, where the utility’s renewable energy portfolio is at only 9%. Burbank Water and Power officials insist they will meet the benchmarks — 20% before 2014 and 25% before 2017 — and the end target of 33% by 2020.

Fred Fletcher, Burbank Water and Power’s assistant general manager, said the utility will buy bio-gas — a more expensive form of natural gas — to meet the 2013 benchmark. Bio-gas runs about $11 per million BTUs, compared with $4.50 for natural gas, he said.

But the expense for not hitting the state goals could be costlier.

If a utility doesn’t meet an interim deadline, hefty fines range from $1,000 to $75,000 per day, according to the California Air Resources Board, the agency assigned to enforce the state mandate.

Fines would be levied on a case-by-case basis, considering the severity of the infraction and its longevity, said agency spokesman Dimitri Stanich.

The heaviest fines would be levied for violations that result from “willful and intentional conduct,” according to the agency.

One large renewable project already online for Burbank Water and Power is a facility that uses gas from a landfill in Santa Clarita and turns it into methane gas for energy, Fletcher said.

Jeanette Meyer, marketing manager for Burbank Water and Power, said reaching the 2020 deadline requires large projects, so progress won’t follow a steady path. Instead, it will come in chunks as large projects come online.

Fletcher said large projects often require partnering with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, which has pulled out of projects in the past, such as a geo-thermal project in Imperial County a few years ago.

“All the work we had done for two years disappeared,” Fletcher said.

Much of the renewable energy for Glendale Water & Power includes wind and landfill gas, said General Manager Glenn Steiger.

To help meet the 25% goal, Burbank Water and Power is looking at some geo-thermal projects, including one in Imperial County, which should bring its renewable average to around 30%, Fletcher said.

Both utilities plan to buy power from a large solar tower being developed in Arizona called La Paz Tower, a more than 2,000-foot-high structure that is expected to be completed in 2014.

The La Paz project would get Glendale Water & Power close to the final benchmark ahead of schedule, Steiger said. Burbank Water and Power would be over the target, Fletcher said.

If the tower doesn’t pan out, both utilities are looking at other renewable energy options.

One possible local project for Burbank Water and Power is placing solar panels atop a new transit center that’s planned at Bob Hope Airport, Fletcher said.

Glendale Water & Power had enough renewable energy sources to make 24% recently, but it sold some renewable energy credits to Pasadena. Next year, Glendale will be back up to 24%, excluding any new projects, Steiger said.

All publicly owned utilities in the state must file a plan outlining how they will reach the renewable energy goals with the California Energy Commission by Jan. 1, said spokeswoman Amy Morgan.

Burbank Water and Power had set a self-imposed deadline in 2007 to be at 33% renewable energy by 2020, but officials didn’t anticipate the interim deadlines that were part of state legislation passed last April.

Glendale had set a deadline for itself in 2003 to be at 20% renewable by 2013, Lins said.

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