• Almost half of the electricity used in the City of Pasadena in 2021 was generated from coal power, per the most recent data made available by Pasadena Water and Power.

      By Wesley Reutimann

      The burning of coal is a potent generator of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

      a chart by Pasadena water and power

      Pasadena Power Content Label(Photo – PWP)

      An Inconvenient Truth

      Pasadena increased its use of coal from 31% to 48% of its total power mix from 2017 to 2021. In contrast, the Cities of Los Angeles and Glendale obtained a relatively steady 19% and 4% of their power from coal, respectively, over the same five-year period. Several neighboring jurisdictions – including the Cities of San Marino, La Cañada, South Pasadena, Sierra Madre, and unincorporated Altadena and East Pasadena – did not utilize any coal power. Statewide utilities averaged 3% coal power.

      Table: Percentage of Coal Power Energy in neighboring jurisdictions

      YEARPasadena Los AngelesGlendaleSan Marino, La Cañada*South Pasadena, Sierra Madre, East Pasadena,Altadena**CA Utility Average
      Percentage of power generated from coal 
      202148% 19%4%0%0%3%

      Source: CA Energy Commission;
      *SoCal Edison provides energy for a broad of southern California including the neighboring cities of San Marino and La Canada Flintridge
      **Clean Power Alliance procures power for the cities of South Pasadena, Sierra Madre, Alhambra, and unincorporated LA County, among other jurisdictions.

      Pasadena doesn’t burn coal itself; it buys electricity generated by burning coal from the Intermountain Power Project (IPP) in western Utah. Operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the plant has previously been singled out as one of the dirtiest in the United States. The City’s 20-year contract with IPP is set to expire in 2027, with the coal power part of the contract to end in 2025. From 2025 to 2027 IPP will generate electricity by burning methane gas, so after the coal burning stops, Pasadena will continue to get electricity generated from another potent greenhouse gas.

      smoke coming out of a power plant

      Intermountain Power Plant in Utah (Photo – DocSearls)

      Pasadena Falls Behind

      Pasadena’s neighbors have voluntarily adopted stronger clean energy standards in recent years. The City of South Pasadena implemented a 100% clean energy default for residential consumers in 2018. The City of Sierra Madre followed suit in 2019, making 100% clean power the standard for all residential and business customers. A few months ago the Alhambra City Council voted to adopt a 100% clean energy standard, to be implemented by the end of 2023. And in October 2022, Altadena and the rest of unincorporated Los Angeles County began a transition to 100% clean and renewable energy for residential customers, with businesses scheduled to follow in 2023. All of these communities are members of the Clean Power Alliance, the largest “Community Choice Aggregator” in southern California.

      Planning for the Future

      Pasadena is in the midst of charting its energy future as part of the Integrated Resource Plan process that kicked off in Spring 2022. At present the City has committed to 60% clean power by 2030, the minimum standard enshrined into state law in 2018 by CA Senate Bill 100.

      Yet the dissonance between the City’s public commitment to clean power and its heavy reliance on coal and other fossil fuels is not lost on members of Pasadena’s environmental, climate, and public health communities. Local groups including the PASADENA 100 coalition are urging the City to transition to 100% carbon free energy by 2030, stressing that the target is fiscally-prudent, achievable, and necessary given the time-sensitive nature of climate change.

      A power plant tower

      Glenarm Power Plant (Photo – ColoradoBlvd.net)

      A Step Forward

      On Monday, November 14, members of the Pasadena 100 and Pasadena Building Electrification coalitions urged the Pasadena City Council to accelerate Pasadena’s transition to clean power.

      Writing in support of Agenda Item 19, Pasadena resident Therese Brummel highlighted that “the cost of clean power is now more affordable than any form of fossil fuel energy. Now is the time to expedite our transition to clean energy!”

      The City Council subsequently approved a 20-year contract to procure 39 megawatts of solar photovoltaic and battery energy storage power from Sapphire Solar, LLC. The project is slated to come online in December 2026 and may be eligible for new clean energy tax credits within the federal Inflation Reduction Act.

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        • Wesley Reutimann

          Wesley Reutimann is a Pasadena resident, volunteer organizer of the Pasadena Environmental Advocates (PEAs) Eco-Breakfast, and co-founder of Active San Gabriel Valley (ActiveSGV). He has almost two decades of experience in the non-profit sector with community-based, government, and educational institutions. Wesley's areas of focus include health policy, sustainable mobility, and active communities.

          Colorado Boulevard is your place for informative news and social living for the greater Pasadena area.
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