Can PWP Be 100% Carbon-Free by 2030?

By Tim Brick

Executive Director, Stewards of the Arroyo Seco

Pasadena has set an ambitious goal to eliminate 100% of its greenhouse gas emissions from electric generation by 2030. City Council declared a Climate Emergency in January 2023 and ordered Pasadena Water and Power Department (PWP) to end the use of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and gas, by that date. This goal is more aggressive than the state mandate and positions PWP as a leader in clean energy and carbon reduction among utilities in the United States.

Citizen involvement spurred City Council to declare the Climate Emergency and the fossil fuel prohibition. Pasadena 100, a remarkable coalition of determined citizens and community-based organizations, conducted a sustained campaign of advocacy, postcards, petitions, and rallies on the steps of City Hall to promote the 2030 goal until the members of City Council voted unanimously to adopt it. The coalition includes members from JPL scientists and engineers to high school and college students motivated by the urgency of climate action.

In the era of climate change, many utilities across the United States are reducing their use of fossil fuels for electric generation, but only a few have been so ambitious as Pasadena.

In 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that includes a goal for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030 for federal operations.

In California, the statewide goal is 2045, but Sacramento Municipal Utility District has pledged to achieve zero carbon emissions in electric generation by 2030. Edison is aiming for 2045, while in Los Angeles the target is 2035.

PWP’s strategy includes a mix of renewable energy sources, such as solar, geothermal, and wind as well as battery storage and other clean technologies. The transition to renewables will be costly, but PWP has committed to maintaining reliable power and affordable rates while doing so.

PWP’s reliance on coal, its chief source for several decades, will end in 2027. In December, City Council ordered PWP staff to complete an optimized reliability plan to finalize the renewable schedule. By going carbonless, PWP will improve local air quality, overall health, and create jobs, contributing to a cleaner and healthier region for all.

We are fortunate to have our own municipal utility, arguably the city’s greatest tool to deal with climate change. Since 1905, it has provided impressive benefits to the city, including reliable service, financing for the Rose Bowl and other city facilities, and revenue for the general fund.

The Pasadena 100 advocates continue to monitor PWP’s planning and implementation steps since the Climate Crisis mandate, often frustrated by a perception that their input was not valued.

That’s not the way it should be for a municipal utility motivated by Public Power. Public Power utilities are distinguished by local control, not-for-profit status, focus on customers, and the commitment to environmental responsibility.

PWP clearly has an openness and accountability problem that has been aggravated by management turnover, with four PWP general managers in the last three years. Now that the policy goal has been set by the community and City Council, PWP’s determination and skill will be critical to meeting the 2030 goal.

Sì, se puede.

Note: A version of this article was originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of the West Pasadena Residents’ Association newsletter.