Under the leadership of the mayor, the DWP has asserted repeatedly that it is a $4 billion-a-year business, not a municipal utility owned and accountable to the public.
If so, its stock would be falling sharply and ripe for a takeover with liabilities mounting, its products faulty and obsolete, its costs out of control, its management in disarray and consumer confidence at all-time low.
Just look at the facts, a litany of long-term mismanagement, lack of transparency, sweetheart deals with unions and contractors, failure to upgrade the water and power systems, illegal actions and ratepayer ripoffs.
On Thursday, state officials announced the DWP agreed to pay other utilities in California $112 million for price gouging during the 2000-01 energy crisis when then — and current — General Manager David Freeman overcharged for our utility’s cheap and dirty coal power.
It was Freeman who turned over most of those ill-gotten gains to the city’s general fund depleted by the impact of the dot-com boom, even as he squandered tens of millions on a phony solar energy plan that a decade later still hasn’t generate enough electricity to light my little neighborhood and turned over running the DWP to union bully boy Brian D’Arcy.
Then there’s the $130 million in water revenue his successors — perpetuating his policy of using the DWP as the city’s cash cow — illegally put in the general fund and still haven’t refunded and the $150 million owed families over the deadly disaster at the Utah mine it partially owns.
Is it any wonder that the DWP has let the water system deteriorate to the point that pipes are bursting all over town or that it is so far behind in the clean energy race that it is paying huge premiums to try to catch up and meet the state-mandated goal of 20 percent renewables by next December and the mayor’s politically-inspired artificial target of 40 percent in 2020?
Is it any wonder that Freeman wants advance approval for virtually unlimited electricity rate increases and doesn’t have a coherent or detailed plan to put before the public?
It was just a year ago this week that the mayor’s lawyer sued the Solar 8 to squelch citizens who questioned Measure B, the DWP scheme to own, install and maintain billions of dollars in large-scale rooftop solar in the city.
Voter rejection of that costly boondoggle did nothing to stop DWP from moving forward on virtually the same plan with a few crumbs offered to the business community, private sector labor and environmentalists.
To the degree that hapless ratepayers know what’s going on, the only certainty is that we will get the bill for a program that is ill-conceived and does little to solve the problem of having the nation’s dirtiest air and dirtiest power-generating system.
As far as we can tell, the DWP’s answer to getting rid of its reliance
for coal-burning plants for nearly half of its electricity is to jack
up rates and borrow heavily to build gas-burning plants, which
continues our reliance on fossil fuels instead of turning to the vast
array of fools from solar thermal, geothermal, biomass and alll the
other technologies now available or coming on line.
can spend our precious money traveling the globe first class and
staying in $1,000 a night hotels with his entourage of hangers-on and
He can show slick videos produced at our expense
and promise the world and talk about how clean-tech corridors and green
energy jobs but it’s all just talk and empty promises when his city is
falling apart, slashing staff and services and suffering from massive
unemployment and soaring poverty.
The DWP raised new concerns
this week with its mysterious backing down on a large-scale solar
project on the utility’s property at the Salton Sea it announced with
great fanfare just a few months ago.
The Board of Commissioners rolled over on the Niland Solar Farm back in August and the CAO’s office
glowingly recommended approval but the City Council sat on for three
months out of concern for the wrath of the public of moving forward
without a plan.
They finally got around to talk about it in committee on Tuesday and hit Freeman & Co. with some harsh comments:
“The public doesn’t trust the Department of Water and Power,” said
Councilman Richard Alarcon. “They believe they are being overcharged.”
Cardenas added: “We have listened to presentation after presentation
where the department has downplayed the renewable energy costs.”
Jan Perry made it clear creating an independent office of Ratepayer
Advocate Office was more important than all sales pitches.
“The public is frightened. People are out of jobs. There is a jobless
recovery. I understand that completely, and these elected public
officials who are reacting to the views of their constituents,” Freeman responded.
he announced he was killing the project entirely even though it would
start generating electricity by summer and four times as much power in
18 times as DWP’s 10-year-old in-basin solar program.
explanation for canceling the deal with the the top firm First Solar
was it costs too much because it would have to extend transmission
lines to the site — which didn’t make sense to anybody since the cost
of the project was fixed and problem well known months ago when it was
pushed as a giant leap forward.
Freeman added to the confusion
and mistrust by pushing for a “pilot project” at Owens Lake (which DWP
drained of water a century ago) to skirt environmental review laws and
then went before the state Lands Commission on
Thursday to sell a fanciful notion that it will cover most of the 100
square miles of the lake with solar panels and run moats through so it
was also parkland.
The real issue is the DWP faces massive fines
because of the dust problem it caused. Commissioners were forgiving of
that temporarily despite DWP officials inability to exactly explain
what they intend to do since they don’t know and are flying by the seat
of Freeman’s pants.
There also were indications the pilot
project would have to be scaled back from more than 600 acres to just
80 acres to appease critics. It wasn’t the Lands Commission’s job to
question whether the project even makes sense, whether it is the best
use of ratepayer’s money and whether it will actually provide solar
energy efficiently and at the best price.
Clearly, this is no way to run a business, let alone the nation’s largest municipal utility.
the DWP does is a political game, not a public service. It didn’t start
with Antonio Villaraigosa but he has politicized the DWP and other city
departments like no one since the scandal-ridden administration of
Mayor Frank Shaw in the 1930s.
The Council’s growing support for
a Ratepayer Advocate, its resistance to blank checks to the DWP, its
questioning of the glib promises and plans enunciated by Freeman are
all positive signs that members are listening to the community and
fearful of voter vengeance at the polls.
They ought to be but the message hasn’t registered on Freeman.
“In city government, it’s hard to get anything done and there are all
kinds of people who can say no,” he complained. “We’re
running a public business that requires action.”
We can all agree with him on that but not before the DWP lays out a comprehensive long-term plan with real costs.
Anything less will explode as surely as the DWP’s aging electrical boxes.