L.A. community colleges' green energy plan proves wildly impractical. The blunders cost taxpayers $10 million.By Michael Finnegan and Gale Holland, Los Angeles Times
March 6, 2011
Larry Eisenberg had a vision. "Amazing," he called it. "Spectacular."
The Los Angeles Community College District would become a paragon of clean energy. By generating solar, wind and geothermal power, the district would supply all its electricity needs. Not only would the nine colleges sever ties to the grid, saving millions of dollars a year, they would make money by selling surplus power. Thanks to state and federal subsidies, construction of the green energy projects would cost nothing upfront.
As head of a $5.7-billion, taxpayer-funded program to rebuild the college campuses, Eisenberg commanded attention. But his plan for energy independence was seriously flawed.
He overestimated how much power the colleges could generate. He underestimated the cost. And he poured millions of dollars into designs for projects that proved so impractical or unpopular they were never built.
These and other blunders cost nearly $10 million that could have paid for new classrooms, laboratories and other college facilities, a Times investigation found.
The problems with Eisenberg's energy vision were fundamental. For starters, there simply wasn't room on the campuses for all the generating equipment required to become self-sufficient. Some of the colleges wouldn't come close to that goal even if solar panels, wind turbines and other devices were wedged into every available space.
Going off the grid did not make economic sense either. Given the cost of alternative energy technology, it would be more expensive for the district to generate all its own electricity than to continue paying utilities for power.
Weather and geology also refused to cooperate.
Three solar power arrays had to be scrapped because the intended locations were atop seismic faults.
Plans for large-scale wind power collided with the reality that prevailing winds at nearly all the campuses are too weak to generate much electricity. To date, a single wind turbine has been installed, as a demonstration project. It spins too slowly in average winds to power a 60-watt light bulb.
In the end, Eisenberg's grand plan was scaled down to what was actually doable, which was a fraction of the green energy capacity he had envisioned.
Remainder at SOURCE