March 25, 2004 - From the December, 2003 issue

Commissioner Leland Wong On DWP's Agenda & Mayor Hahn's LAX Master Plan Alternative

With the recent wildfires around the region and blackouts across the country, there is intense focus on safe and reliable utilities. MIR is pleased to present this interview with Leland Wong, Vice President of the LA DWP Board of Commissioners and Director of Government and Community Relations for the Kaiser Medical Care Program, Southern California Region, in which he discusses the DWP's most recent renewable energy and security initiatives and Mayor Hahn's LAX modernization proposal.

Leland Wong

In March of this year, we interviewed DWP General Manager David Wiggs, who noted that the department was focusing on renewable energy sources. Could you address DWP's green agenda and how this agenda progressing? Is it meeting expectations?

First, I do want to comment that I think David Wiggs is a great General Manager who is taking the department in a direction that not only provides quality in terms of services, but the efficiency as well as the customer service that's required to be a successful organization.

The department has done a great deal of planning and looking at how it can best be a friend to the environment, as well as ensure that we continue to deliver needed services to our customers at a competitive price. We have invested about $1.8 billion in a 10-year integrated resource energy plan, which includes a variety of components. Most importantly, the plan focuses on reducing emissions and the environmental hazards related to creating energy. We are building cleaner, more reliable and more efficient power plants. These plants will have new, state-of-the-art generators that will dramatically reduce smog-causing emissions such as NOX and carbon dioxide.

We are also looking at ways of enhancing our investments into new, clean electric technologies such as solar, wind, hydroelectric gas, and fuel cells. By doing this, we can reduce environmental impacts, as well as improve air quality in the basin. Currently, we are working on the Pine Tree Wind Project, a 120-megawatt facility that will be the largest municipally owned wind plant in the United States. Just recently, the LADWP completed a fuel cell power plant at our headquarters, the John Ferraro Building. This is North America's largest, most efficient, commercially designed hydrogen fuel cell power plant, and it is owned and operated by the LADWP. In solar power, we've invested $150 million in incentives to encourage our customers to use solar energy. This particular program is one of the largest of its kind in the nation. In addition, we will be installing photovoltaic (PV) solar power systems at five LA branch libraries over the next two years.

One of our most innovative programs is the installation of micro turbines at the Lopez Canyon Landfill. These clean turbines generate power from landfill gases, that would otherwise be flared or burned, thus eliminating about 10,000 pounds of NOx per year which is the equivalent of removing more than 500 cars from the roads every year. These programs are just an example of the action we're taking to develop renewable energy. We're very concerned about how we participate in protecting the environment, so we are extremely committed to these programs.

It would be fascinating for our readers to know how the board, general manager and staff of DWP responded to the fire that devastated Southern California and affected power distribution throughout the region. Likewise, what lessons were learned by DWP from the East Coast blackouts from earlier in the year? What are the policy issues raised by these interruptions in service?

We were kept informed of the fires' proximity to and possible effect on the power grid as well as on the water supply and remained confident that there would be no disturbance in service to the city residents. In terms of the power failure that triggered electricity outages across the northeast and Canada this past summer, we recognize that it caused some residents to ask important questions about whether such a disaster could ever happen here in Los Angeles. These questions reflect understandable, and legitimate, concerns. Today, while we should "never say never," I can confidently reassure the residents and businesses of Los Angeles that the chances of this are highly, highly unlikely.

The reason why I have this high level of confidence about our power system is because the people of Los Angeles have invested heavily into a system that is very reliable. One of the key reasons that we are able to maintain the reliability of our transmission lines is that because the Los Angeles power system is financially stable. We stayed out of the California deregulation experiment, and therefore didn't experience the financial problems of other energy providers. We focused on the basics -- keeping rates low, retaining our generation facilities, and continuing to invest in our power system.


In recent years, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has purchased electric generation facilities located here in the LA-basin, and as far away as Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. We've isolated our system to protect it from being impacted from a power failure in any one area.

The LADWP has also invested in the maintenance of our power plants and transmission lines to ensure that a problem doesn't occur in the first place.

While the utility business can be highly technical at times, I think our approach is fairly straightforward. We're keeping our system healthy and in good shape, and diversifying our power sources so that no single malfunction can have a crippling affect. Through smart planning and investment, Los Angeles is prepared to guard the ratepayers from electrical meltdowns.

This segues nicely to homeland security issues post-9/11, most specifically to new challenges public utilities must manage. Would you address LADWP's homeland security priorities? How are they being addressed? And, what support is expected from the federal government?

While security has always been a priority for the department, the September 11 terrorist attacks were a catalyst for change in the way LADWP looks at securing its water and power facilities. Immediately following the terrorist attack, LADWP initiated a security threat assessment, spurring recommendations for a wholesale upgrade of the department's safety and security system. The department has budgeted $132 million into its security program to cover improvements across the entire LADWP infrastructure, taking into consideration the risk of physical, chemical, radiological and biological threats.

It is important to note that, to date, no credible threat has been made against any Los Angeles Department of Water and Power facility and/or operation. However, LADWP remains vigilant in ensuring the safety of our system so that we can continue to deliver reliable power and the highest quality water to its customers.



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