County: Carbon Neutrality Definition Tabled


Thank you to everyone who provided feedback and/or attended the Dec. 16, 2015 Board of Public Utilities (BPU) meeting. The BPU tabled the Carbon Neutrality Definition at the Dec. 16 meeting.  

The matter will be put on the agenda to be discussed again and adopted at the Jan. 20, 2016 Board meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, 1000 Central Ave.  


The Board of Public Utilities (BPU) will adopt a definition for “Carbon Neutrality” at its December 16, 2015 Board meeting scheduled at 5:30PM in Council Chambers, 1000 Central Avenue, Los Alamos, NM. Provide your feedback to the BPU on the following definition for “Carbon Neutrality” developed by the Future Energy Resources Committee (FER Committee), a seven-member citizen group selected to assist the BPU and the Department of Public Utilities to reach a long-term goal to be a carbon neutral electric provider by 2040. The following definition is taken from the FER Committee’s July 7, 2015 Future Electrical Energy Resources Report


2. The Goal: Carbon Neutrality

2.1. Definition

Clearly, the ideal end state would be for LAC’s electrical power sources to produce no greenhouse gases. That appears to be technically and economically achievable by 2040 or perhaps sooner. Hence, FER recommends the following definition of carbon neutral for LA County:

Electricity distributed to LA County consumers shall be generated or purchased from sources that do not cause any significant net release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases.

“LA County consumers” does not necessarily include DOE/LANL. It is bound by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) and executive orders to reduce carbon generation at least into the mid-2020’s but does not currently have a net-zero carbon emissions goal.

While actual generation should not produce any greenhouse gases, generating facilities are likely to emit such gases or other undesirable by-products during their construction. These should be minimized.

Occasional production (e.g., emergency generators) or purchases of carbon-based electricity when carbon-free supplies are not practically available may be necessary. These supplies are expected to be offset (e.g., via Renewable Energy Credits from previous sales of surplus carbon zero electricity) to maintain overall net zero carbon-based electricity supply.

2.2. Relationship to Reliability and Cost

Electricity consumers and suppliers have historically focused on two major factors in power supply: reliability and cost. There have always been trade-offs between the two criteria. Environmental impact, principally greenhouse gas production, should become a third criterion.

The natural phenomena upon which most carbon-free power depends are more variable than carbon-based generation. Patterns are sometimes predictable, sometimes not. The wind sometimes blows, sometimes not. The sun shines only during the day; even then, solar insolation varies with cloud cover. This source variability adds another dimension to the transmission and distribution system reliability that has long been a goal of utilities and expectation of customers.

LA consumers should not have to expect any reduced delivery reliability or power quality. Source availability and power quality should be at lease comparable to that of carbon-burning plants (which are not available even close to 100 percent of the time). It is important to recognize that costs of the carbon-free power are declining while those for carbon-based power are increasing.

The LA County Charter, in Sec. 504, requires that utility “rates and charges shall be just, reasonable, and comparable to those in neighboring communities and shall be uniform for all consumers of the same class.” The requirement that rates be “comparable to those in neighboring communities” sets a loose cap on any major cost increases for carbon-free power until neighboring communities also move in that direction.

Bi-annual DPU surveys from 2005 through 2013 (the 2015 survey is in progress) indicate a majority of DPU customers consider renewable energy to be important and are willing to pay up to 15% more for it. The surveys did not ask how many would pay an even higher incremental amount* but they indicate an appreciation by CPU customers of the value of carbon-free power.

*LAC DPU Customer Surveys for 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013. 


In 2013 the BPU adopted six strategic objectives for the DPU, one of which is to achieve environmental sustainability with a long-term goal and milestone to be carbon neutral by 2040.   This long-term goal was later modified and approved by the Board to be a “carbon neutral electric provider by 2040.”  The adopted six strategic objects were developed to align with DPU’s Mission to “provide safe and reliable utility services in an economically and environmentally sustainable fashion.”

In January of 2015 the BPU selected Los Alamos County citizens to serve on a seven-member Future Energy Resources Committee (FER Committee) to recommend to the BPU and DPU how to realize this carbon neutral goal.  Specifically, the FER Committee was asked to recommend:

  1. A definition for carbon neutrality
  2. Future energy generation resources for the County, and
  3. Policies for distributed generation customers.

A July 7, 2015 Future Electrical Energy Resources Report (FEER Report) was prepared by the FER Committee with recommendations after almost six months of extensive research and discussion among the seven members. The report was presented to the BPU on July 15, 2015. While the BPU acknowledged receipt of the report, they resolved to examine the recommendations in detail at future Board meetings. Board members David Powell and Jeff Johnson developed a plan to review the various recommendations in the 33 page FEER Report. This plan was approved at the November 18, 2015 Board meeting and will address the recommendations at the follows Board meetings (click here for the full plan):

  • Dec. 16, 2015 the BPU will adopt a definition for “Carbon Neutrality”
  • Jan. 20, 2016 the BPU will adopt a strategic policy for electrical energy resources.
  • Feb. 17, 2016 the BPU will adopt a strategic policy for distributed electrical generation and rate structure.  

Prior to the December, January and February Board meetings, the BPU will open an “Open Forum” question with the relevant topics to be discussed.