Net Zero Water & Net Zero Power On a Utility Scale: An Interview with LADWP’s Nancy Sutley

Net Zero Water & Net Zero Power On a Utility Scale: An Interview with LADWP's Nancy Sutley

By Chloe Woodruff

Prior to our Net Zero Conference & Expo on October 2-4, 2019, we spoke with Nancy Sutley, Chief Sustainability Officer for the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power about the utility’s forward-facing initiatives and goals for net zero.

Nancy is participating in our NZ19 “Utility Panel: Power Women!” at the Los Angeles Convention Center on October 3.

What does a “Net Zero Future” look like from LADWP’s perspective?

From LADWP’s perspective, a “net zero future” means transforming our neighborhoods with a resilient, sustainable water supply and clean energy produced with renewable resources.

Our vision is to accomplish a net zero future for both energy and water, while doing so in a manner that is fair and equitable, both economically and in terms of environmental impacts, for all of our customer sectors.

On the power side, LADWP is aggressively decarbonizing our power supply mix by divesting from coal power and reducing other fossil fuel power generation. At the same time, we are aggressively expanding renewable energy, building innovative energy storage systems, investing in energy efficiency and local solar, and encouraging L.A. drivers to switch to electric vehicles.

As a water provider in a drought-prone area, we are equally committed to expanding our local water resources, reducing reliance on purchased water imported over long distances. We are doing this by finding new innovative ways to save water and help our customers use water more efficiently, expand our ability to capture storm-water runoff and clean up our groundwater supply.

Which net zero projects are you investing in now?

In April 2019, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced L.A.’s 2019 Green New Deal, which sets aggressive new goals for the city’s sustainable future. The plan envisions a carbon-neutral city by 2050 by zeroing out key sources of emissions—buildings, transportation, electricity, and trash. It also calls for recycling 100% of the city’s wastewater and sourcing 70% of our water locally by 2035. Achieving these goals will require significant investments in both our water and power systems.

For power, we are now studying clean energy alternatives to repowering our coastal thermal power generating units that currently use ocean water for cooling. This initiative may involve significant investments in new solar, energy storage, demand-side management, and demand-response programs. We are also evaluating needed upgrades to transmission, distribution and other supporting infrastructure.

On the water side, working with partner agencies (Water Replenishment District and LA Bureau of Sanitation), we are pursuing a bold initiative to maximize recycled water from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, using purified recycled water to replenish the Central and West Coast Groundwater Basins south of the Santa Monica Mountains’ ridgeline. This initiative is part of long-term effort to develop resilient, sustainable, and cost-effective water resources as we confront extremes in weather conditions and the resulting change in water supply.

Why is net zero water still so important, despite the fact that California is not experiencing a drought this year?

Extreme weather conditions caused by climate change are powerful reminders of the vulnerability of L.A.’s water supply and our city’s pressing need for water independence. We may have survived the most recent multi-year drought, but our region has a history of dry seasons, and the current weather pattern cannot be counted on to continue. Furthermore, earthquakes and other natural disasters could impact our ability to import water over long distances.

As the largest municipal utility in the country, how does LADWP’s role in building a net zero future differ from that of other utilities?     

As the nation’s largest municipal utility, LADWP sets the agenda on many fronts of the utility industry, particularly for public power utilities. Other municipal utilities in the state and nation follow our lead as we carve out new paths for renewable energy development, local solar power programs, electric vehicle adoption, energy efficiency programs, and other measures that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Our Board of Commissioners recently approved what will be the largest solar-plus-energy storage project in the nation. It will be the first combined solar-energy storage project that will be able to offset using natural gas for peaking power. It’s also the lowest price on record for solar. This is new territory that we are pioneering and hope serves as a catalyst for similar projects around the country.

The LA100 Study is another initiative that will help pave the way for other utilities seeking to transition to net zero power supply. The study will determine what investments are necessary to achieve a 100% renewable, or a 100% carbon-free, power supply. This will be the most comprehensive renewable energy study by a utility serving a territory the size of Los Angeles. When completed next year, we will have a thorough understanding of the costs, risks, infrastructure upgrades, resource availability, and other considerations for achieving a net zero or 100% renewable portfolio.

As a municipal utility and a department of the City of Los Angeles, LADWP also has the ability to partner with other city departments, such as the Port of Los Angeles, the Department of Transportation, and Los Angeles World Airports, to support transportation electrification and achieve their zero emissions goals.

What important conversations do you hope people will come away from the conference having? 

We hope participants will have an understanding of the various challenges of achieving net zero on a utility scale and the role they can play through energy efficiency, as well as shifting their heavy use of electricity.

If people were to make one behavioral change to support LADWP’s efforts, what would you recommend?    

For individuals, be mindful of your energy use, especially during extreme heat. Avoid using large appliances during afternoons and early evening. Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Keep the thermostat at 78 degrees. LADWP also distributed two free LED bulbs to all of our 1.5 million electric customers to encourage energy savings. These behavioral changes will help save energy, reduce your bill, and reduce the demand on hot electrical equipment, which will help prevent an unplanned power outage.

To help all of our customers save water and energy, LADWP offers a variety of energy efficiency and water conservation rebates and incentive programs tailored for residential customers and commercial, industrial, and government/institutional customers. Visit for additional information on all LADWP energy and water rebate programs.