By Nick Kipley
During Monday night’s meeting of the Pasadena City Council, the municipal services committee recommended the council adopt the Pasadena Water and Power (PWP) 2015 Power Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).
The plan examined alternative ways in which the PWP might meet the city’s energy load capacity through to the year 2034, and primarily recommended a “stay the course” line of action.
“Staying the course,” in this situation, meant that PWP continue acquiring most of its electricity from the Intermountain Power Project (IPP), a primarily coal-fired electric generating station that is slated by law to switch over to natural gas no later than 2025, and whose contract with the city is interminable and set to expire in 2027.
The committee’s proposal also offered a series of more expensive yet “greener” power portfolios for the city to consider: these options were proposed to illustrate the cost per kilowatt/hour the average private citizen would have to pay extra, were the city to try to gain its power from a source other than the IPP; or if the city were to only buy the minimum amount of power they are contractually obliged to purchase from the electric station.
Due to rules that seem to have been developed in a power company’s boardroom, if Pasadena were to break their contract with the IPP and choose to buy power elsewhere, the city would still be required to pay for the power they weren’t using.
It’s a quite common payment scheme in which a municipal service must pay the power company for the energy that they take as well as the energy they don’t take. Which means that, even if Pasadena were to find a greener source of energy and begin using it, it would still be contractually obligated to pay the IPP to continue generating power for other clients using the grid.
The most drastic energy portfolio presented at the council meeting regarded the cost of acquiring power from entirely different “green” sources while still under contract with the IPP. This proposal described electric bills that most residents would most certainly and immediately feel. If adopted, ratepayers would immediately see a $1,200 annual increase compared to the average (2015) residential electric bill.
However, a less drastic and more environmentally friendly portfolio was put forth which both Mayor Tornek and Councilmember John Kennedy seemed to favor. This proposal described a 4% increase in monthly residential electric bills (approximately 2,000 kWh per household) in exchange for Pasadena buying the least possible amount of energy from the IPP before allowing the arrangement to veer into fiscally irresponsibility.
Speaking in public comment, Peter Kalmus, an atmospheric climate scientist for NASA/JPL—who spoke expressly on his own behalf as a concerned citizen, and not on behalf of his employers—gave a speech in which he extolled the merits of paying a 4% increase in ratepayer fees now, hopefully in exchange for a world in which his children, the next generation, won’t have to pay for the carbon we are putting into the air currently.
To summarize his speech, Kalmus described an exponential curve in global warming trends that indicate how the climate change scenarios of next two to three decades will fast outstrip the climate change scenarios seen since the end of the 20th century.
Although the mayor and Kennedy expressly described how much they disliked the less-expensive plan regarding the IPP, and wished that the 4% increase could be achieved, the council voted unanimously in favor of “staying the course.”
After this, Phyllis Currie, the General Manager of Pasadena Water and Power, announced her retirement after 14 years of service. She was thanked by the mayor and members of council and received a standing ovation for her service through trying economic times, droughts, and for running the department through a decade and a half of radical change in the city.