L.A. Power Monopoly Reneges On Solar Rebate Deal

The Los Angeles City Council voted this month to reduce solar rebates even though its June 1 hike in customer rates was intended to increase solar incentives.

Here's how the June increase was described by New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer (who apparently believes there are lots of rattlesnakes in the city of Los Angeles):

The proceeds would be earmarked for renewable energy purchases and programs, including one that would repay people or businesses that use solar panels to contribute to the power grid.

The L.A. Times in its coverage noted that the rate increase was supposed to be used in part to "help [Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa reach his goal of securing 20% of the utility’s power from renewable sources."

Now, however, the city is reducing the solar rebate program, blaming the state government in Sacramento for failing to pony up enough for the solar program.

Thanks to tireless L.A. curmudgeon Rob McMillin for pointing out the discrepancy, and also for noting that the phrase "L.A. homes generate 22 megawatts each year" proves the L.A. Times doesn't know the difference between power and energy. (I don't know the difference either, but in my experience Rob is usually right and the Times copydesk is usually wrong.)

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  • ||

    "L.A. homes generate 22 megawatts each year" proves the L.A. Times doesn't know the difference between power and energy. (I don't know the difference either...

    Megawatts are power, MegawattHours are energy.

  • ||

    So, megawatts are like pounds per square inch of pressure in your water main, and megawatt-hours are like gallons of water coming out the faucet?

  • ||

    I think PSI is voltage in the hydraulic model of electricity, but yeah.

  • Lurker||

    that makes sense. Pressure can only be measured as a differential (i.e. PSI is difference between atompheric and whatever). just as voltage is the difference between some source and a ground

  • ||

    To refine RC's example: watts would measure gal/min flow in the pipe. watthours would be how many gallons you'd get out of the faucet before the source ran dry.

  • db||

    Not quite.

    1 W = 1 J /s

    a Joule (J) is a derived unit of energy, and can be used to quantify the amount of work done by (or consumed in) a process.
    a Watt (W) is a measure of the rate of use (or production) of energy.

    Your analogy is close, but it's better to start from the idea that in your example, a Joule (unit of energy) is like a gallon (unit of volume) and proceed to the idea that a Watt (unit of power (= energy/time)) is like a gallon/minute (volumetric flow rate = (volume / time)).

  • ||

    I don't know if we've cleared it up for Cavanaugh, but I'm more confused than when we started. Time to hit the books again.

  • ||

    Yep. Power is the time rate of change in energy. dE/dt.

  • Isaac Newton||

    I knew that little hobby of mine would come in handy one day.

  • Juice||

    I don't know if flow rate would be equivalent to electrical power. It would seem like it's more equivalent to electrical current.

    Pressure would be voltage and flow rate would be current. Since power is current times voltage, then the hydraulic equivalent to electrical power would be something like inch-pounds per minute.

    1 gal = 231 cu. inches

    lbs/sq.inch * cu.inch/min = in.lbs/min

    or in SI units:


    (newton meters per second)

    1 J = 1 Nm

    so it works out.

  • ||

    To wit, one watt equals the "intensity" (i.e. power) of one joule of energy expended over the timespan of one second. "Kilowatt-hour" is kind of a misnomer (piling on of terms); in that expression "watt" would be more accurately described with "joule," leading to more confusion about this.

    Horsepower is a very antique version of what a "watt" is supposed to measure; watts have nothing to do with electricity. I think, off the top of my head one horsepower = ~750 watts. A "calorie" is another and works out to about ~4 watts.

    Such confusion with SI units is problematic. Take E=MC^2. Some of the actual values originally applied to the formula (old-skool metric shit like 'ergs') have been abandoned completely. I remember many jokers in college (and more than a few forum threads wherever) run that famous old equation with arbitrarily picked English units - not even thinking about the consideration there - and then puzzle over the comical results.

  • ||

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  • ||

    The Los Angeles City Council voted this month

    The idea that any City Council anywhere is voting on electricity rates for consumers terrifies me.

  • ||

    One of the things I would love to watch should anyone develop a super-clean device that produced electricity at say 1 cent/kilowatt hour would be the alliance of power companies and entrenched government bureaucracies who would try to make them illegal.

  • ||

    Oh they wouldn't make it illegal, but common sense dictates that we ban it for a few years while we conduct thorough government study to make sure it's 100% safe for children. While that's afoot, you bribe someone to steal the technology & lean on cronies in DC who can make sure there's a long, complicated patent dispute. Then, you lobby congress to pass hyper burdensome regulations that drive the original inventor out of business. By the time the patent is finally awarded, you buy it for a song from the bankruptcy trustee. Thereafter it's easy to edge rates back up to exactly what you were charging before.


    I personnally add 20,000 cubic feet of natural gas to the world every day...pull my finger?

  • ||

    LA home *generate* what now.

  • ||

    So, basically, this is a sin tax on electricity. What the fuck is wrong with these people?

  • ||

    Income tax is a 'sin tax' on productivity and they are just as eager for that.

    "These people" want power, that's the sum of it.

  • cynical||

    They hate our way of life and our freedom. I say we bomb them back to the Stone Age.

  • ||

    We're already talking about 'stone age' people: This is Los Angeles City Council, remember?

  • ||

    Are you suggesting that living in LA is punishment enough?

  • ||

    In a way.

    Nuking LA would seem to be the humane thing to do.

  • Irresponsible Hater||

    So WTF am I supposed to do with all this sunshine?

  • prolefeed||

    the phrase "L.A. homes generate 22 megawatts each year" proves the L.A. Times doesn't know the difference between power and energy. (I don't know the difference either, but in my experience Rob is usually right and the Times copydesk is usually wrong.)

    If you have a 100 watt light bulb, that means that any time it is turned on, it is consuming 100 watts of power.

    If that bulb is on for 1 minute, it consumes 1.67 watthours of energy.

    The reporter is confused about the difference between power and energy. It's like having a muscle car, and ignorantly saying it consumes 400 horsepower per year, when what you mean is that the maximum power it can produce at any instant is 400 HP.

  • ||

    Actually, the megawatt-year is also a valid unit of energy, so maybe that's what they meant.

  • ||

    And 'furlongs per fortnight' is a valid unit of speed.

    Both are pretty useless for any meaningful conversation, however.

  • ||

    Meaningful conversation is vastly overrated.

  • Grampa Simpson||

    My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it.

  • ||

    Well, then 22 megawatt years is not very much ... it is equal to 2.5 kilowatt-hours.

  • ||

    ugh, I mean ... 2.5 kilowatts ... on a typical day

  • ||

    On second thought. My brain isn't working right today. Someone else do the math.

  • ||

    22 Megawatt-Years equals 192,720 MW-Hrs.

  • ||

    Thanks. I knew I had something upside down.

  • CatoTheElder||

    ugh, you mean ... on an average day

  • Jeffersonian||

    No, it would be a pretty good chunk of energy: 22 megawatts generated consistently for one year. I doubt that's what's being generated, however.

  • ||

    That's only about a millionth of total world consumption, so it's not that much really.

  • Jeffersonian||

    Yeah, but it would keep my home theater going like, forever.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Megawatt-year is a unit of energy, but it certainly is NOT what they meant.

    The sentence reads, "L.A. homes generate 22 megawatts each year, far less than 1% of the 25,000 gigawatt-hours used in the city annually". The phrase "megawatts each year" is equivalent to megawatts per year, i.e. megawatts divided by years rather than megawatts multiplied by years.

    If the sentence were true and correctly interpreted, it would mean that homes are adding 22 megawatts of generating capacity (i.e. power) per year. But it would still be very clumsily worded.

    I suspect, however, that the writer thought it redundant to add the "-hour" to megawatt since she used the suffix in connection with the gigawatt-hour quantity.

    Even worse than getting the units of measure wrong is the fact that she fails to specify the means by which the 22 Mw-h (presumably) are generated. Is is all solar? Does it include portable generators? And where the heck did she get the number from anyway?

  • ||

    I'm almost certain that this is not what they meant. The solar business has been very happy to conflate nameplate installed power production (what a panel can deliver at noon on a sunny day in the middle of summer) versus contribution (number of kWh generated). It's something that Ron Bailey mentioned back in a January column when he wrote that

    And even with that dramatic subsidy, solar panels still provide very little of Germany's power. The report noted, “Installed capacity is not the same as production or contribution." In 2008, 6.3 percent of Germany’s electricity production was from wind, followed by 3.6 percent from biomass and 3.1 percent from water. Meanwhile, the report notes, "The amount of electricity produced through solar photovoltaics was a negligible 0.6 percent despite being the most subsidized renewable energy, with a net cost of about €8.4 billion (US $12.4 billion) for 2008.” German consumers foot that bill. In 2008, the price mark-up due to green energy subsidies amounted to 7.5 percent of average household electricity prices. Keep in mind that German residential electricity prices are already high at about 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. The average American pays about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.
  • ||

    Agreed. "22 megawatt-years" would be about 190 gigawatt-hours.

  • NotLinky||

    So... we should use flux capacitors instead?

  • ||

    Power = energy per unit time.

    Power is measured in watts. Energy is measured in joules, or btus, or whatnot. Megawatt-hours for the electricity grid.

    Thus "megawatts per year" is nonsensical. You multiply watts by time, you don't divide it.

  • ||

    If you're looking for the rate of change in power usage, megawatts per year is a perfectly sensible unit.

  • ||

    Sure, but you wouldn't really phrase it that way anyway. When you talk about adding power to the grid you never speak in terms of actual rates per second or hour, you talk about maximum capacity.

    You would say "22 megawatts of generating capacity added each year". Nobody says that the new plant is increasing it's output at a rate 3 megawatts per year. Particularly because powering up and down generating capacity doesn't really happen on a year-long timescale. You might talk about ramp ups in the load on a daily basis or how fast the generator could ramp up in terms of megawatt-hours per hour. But per year? Definitely you would be talking about theoetical capacity numbers.

  • ||

    One additional comment: I have wondered for a long time now why "private" utilities are so hot on renewables. It occurs to me that games such as this one -- using greenwashing to justify higher overall rates -- is a very likely answer.

  • ||

    It's pure rent-seeking. "Renewable energy" doesn't generate much actual business revenue, but it's a damn subsidy goldmine. GE is the perfect example -- their accelerating "green" propaganda closely follows subsidy and lock-in through regulation.

  • George Lucas||

    And a parsec is a measure of speed!

  • johnl||

    I assume Tim is joking but if not then I am pretty sure every libertarian in California would be happy to teach him calculus over coffee. Lots of coffee shops have tables for 4.

  • California Solar Engineering||

    This is going to make it challenging for LA to stay on top of the solar curve...
    Home and business owners in LA- act quickly, this is the time to get the rebates and go solar, we can help.


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