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Brown, L.A. port agree to greenhouse gas inventory, solar power plant

Brown, L.A. port agree to greenhouse gas inventory, solar power plant

California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed an agreement Thursday that will create a greenhouse gas monitoring program and a solar power plant at the Port of Los Angeles.

   Under terms of the deal, the Attorney General's office agrees to file no legal action to stop a proposed terminal expansion project at the port. The TransPacific, or TraPac project was given a first round of approvals by the port's governing board late Thursday night. Brown also agreed to issue a letter in support of the project.

   In return, the Los Angeles port will conduct an annual greenhouse gas inventory report for port-generated activity and develop a 10-megawatt solar power plant to provide electricity for port use.

   The inventory will be developed and issued by the port, but the terms of the agreement require that the public be presented with a draft of each report and be allowed to make public comment before it is transmitted to the office of the Attorney General and other state air quality agencies.

   The inventory component also sets the geographic boundaries that the port will be responsible for cataloging. These include for oceangoing vessels, everything between the port and the point of origin/destination. This means that greenhouse gas emissions generated by vessels in Chinese waters will become part of what the port 'generates.'

   For rail, the boundaries will include all major rail destination and distribution points in the entire United States, thus gases created by trains, for example in Chicago or Memphis, will be included as port emissions. Likewise, greenhouse gases emitted by out-of-state truck transit to and from port terminals will encompass major truck destination/distribution points such as Phoenix and Las Vegas.

   The inclusion of these newly defined geographic areas will lead to a dramatic increase in the amount of gases 'emitted' by the ports under the new agreement. Potentially, the port could be held liable for reducing these distantly created emissions, though no details of how this would be possible are mentioned in the agreement.

   The solar power plant, to be built within the port or on port-owned property under the agreement, is expected to be composed of photovoltaic panels and used to replace electricity now pulled by the port from local utilities.

   While the exact physical and financial details of the power plant are not specified, similar projects throughout the world have cost in the tens of millions of dollars and required vast amounts of open land.

   An equivalent 10-megawatt solar cell facility, with enough capacity to power 30,000 homes, is under development in Taipei, Taiwan, with a projected cost of $92 million. A 12-megawatt solar power plant in Arnstein, Germany, which opened last year and was labeled at the time as the largest solar farm in the world, cost $90 million to construct.

   In addition, the proposal to build a solar power plant at the port comes as solar panel prices for larger projects have risen about 12 percent nationwide over the past three years.

   According to solar industry consultant firm Solarbuzz LLC, the price for solar panels has jumped from about $4.34 per watt in July 2004 to about $4.84 per watt in July 2007.

   In California, where more than 40 large-scale solar projects are either operating or in some stage of development, the total installed cost per watt is even higher. According to renewable energy analysts New Energy Finance, the cost of panels are about half of the full installed price, which has actually declined in California from about $10 per installed watt in 2003 to about $7 per installed watt today.

   Using the New Energy Finance numbers, this would put the proposed port solar power plant in the $70 million price range.

   The port solar power plant, scheduled to be constructed in two phases over the next five years, will in reality be numerous small facilities placed on rooftops of port buildings and in port parking lots. The port has identified 790,000 square feet of port buildings and parking lots on which to place the panels with an additional 400,000 square feet of panels to be placed on various container terminals throughout the port.

   A third component of the agreement calls for the port to include the effect of global warming in all Environmental Impact Report documents — required for major construction projects — and adopt all feasible measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from proposed port projects.

   The cost of the three different measures will be borne by the port, under the terms of the agreement. ' Keith Higginbotham