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Last September, the Los Angeles city council voted to move the city’s energy sector to carbon free by 2035. This ambitious goal is endorsed by the city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, who has been a vocal supporter of sustainability measures in Los Angeles. While the responsibility for climate action usually falls on larger national entities, Los Angeles is in a unique position to react to the climate crisis. Los Angeles is an exceptional city not only because of its size, but also because of its global influence. As such, it is the city’s responsibility to do all it can in the face of the existential crisis that is climate change.

Los Angeles is a coastal city, and as such, it faces many challenges related to the changing climate. Some studies predict that coastal areas in Southern California could face up to three times as many days over 95 F, and generally more extreme weather. There is also the threat of rising sea levels along the coasts, as glaciers and sea ice melt near Antarctica and Greenland.

The proposed plan backed by the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Garcetti aims to direct the city’s energy utility to move to carbon-free energy within the next 15 years. The LA Department of Water and Power is the largest municipal utility in the nation. Because the LADWP is publicly owned, the Los Angeles city government is able to direct how it is operated, and pass measures that make the production of energy more sustainable. Other cities could follow elements of the LADWP plan and incorporate it into their own plans. Moving away from fossil fuels is difficult, but a successful transition in Los Angeles could have reverberating effects for cities across the country. 

The city of Los Angeles commissioned a study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to provide a roadmap for full sustainability by 2035. One of the findings of the city’s “100 Percent Renewable Energy Study (LA100),” which was published earlier this year, was that rooftop solar panels would be crucial in transitioning the city’s energy grid to 100% renewable. Around 38% of single family homes would need to be outfitted with rooftop solar. This would require installing six times the current amount of solar panels in the city.  However, with costs associated with installing solar reaching all-time lows, this goal is more achievable than ever. Another takeaway from the report is that wind and solar farms, along with comprehensive battery storage, would be necessary to complete the transition. 

The study estimates that implementing all these methods of reaching full fossil-fuel independence would cost the city somewhere between $57 billion to $87 billion. This means that the estimated cost of reaching 100% renewability would be between $3.8 billion to $5.8 billion per year until 2035. In contrast, the annual budget for Los Angeles is around $11 billion. It’s unclear how the city would pay for this plan, but finding a way to do so is an essential task not only for the sake of city dwellers, but also the world.  The stakes are high, and we’re already seeing some of the early effects of the climate crisis – rising sea levels threaten to submerge island nations, record temperatures are now common, and wildfires ravage California each year. 

Despite the challenges associated, it is vital that Los Angeles undertakes this monumental transition. LA is the second most populated city in the United States and has a worldwide influence like nowhere else in the world. A city-wide effort to transition the expansive energy grid could serve as a blueprint for other large cities and send a message that climate action is not only possible, but necessary.