After intense pressure from solar panel installers and environmental groups, the Los Angeles City Council has voted to review a move by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power to slash rebates for residential and commercial solar panel installations.

Last month, the DWP’s Board of Commissioners voted to cut rebates by 30 percent for residential and business customers who put solar panels on their buildings. The panel claimed the rebate program exceeded its $33 million annual budget and that solar panel prices have dropped sharply so the rebates were no longer necessary.

Solar panel installers argue that such steep cuts in the rebates would drive down business. They say that the rebate reduction could cost small-business owners up to $40,000 more in up-front costs to have solar panels installed.

After the DWP board voted to proceed with the rebate cuts, the solar panel installers asked the City Council to either stop or lessen the reductions.

“We as stakeholders believe these changes are overly aggressive and may unnecessarily harm L.A.’s clean tech market, effectively raising solar prices in the metro area,” the installers wrote in a letter to Council President Eric Garcetti.

At a minimum, the installers want the council to consider whether the cut in rebates would lead to job losses and why the cuts are deeper for homeowners when most of the growth in the solar panel program has come from business owners.

“We would like these questions to be answered and for the council to consider other options,” said Ken Button, president of Verengo Solar Plus, an Orange solar roof panel installer that does about 40 percent of its business in Los Angeles.

The council has until Dec. 3 to act on the rebate program. Failing that, the cuts will go into effect Jan. 1.

Enforcement Fees

Proposition 26 may derail plans by the Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety to impose a fee on building code violators.

The measure, which voters passed earlier this month, requires that many government-imposed fees win two-thirds voter approval. However, an exemption for “reasonable” regulatory costs may allow implementation of the proposed fee.

Los Angeles Councilman Ed Reyes had proposed in September that Building & Safety levy fees on businesses and building owners that violate building codes. The fees were designed to raise more revenue for the department and take some pressure off the city’s strained general fund.

Currently, when Building & Safety inspectors respond to a complaint about possible code violations, the department doesn’t assess an inspection fee, even if the visit turns up a violation. Instead, the inspector gives the offenders a deadline to fix the problem; only if that deadline isn’t met is a $550 fee assessed.

Earlier this month, Miguel Santana, the city’s administrative officer, proposed that the fee be set at $336 for each inspection that reveals a violation.

But that was before the impact of Proposition 26 became an issue. Under the proposition, many fees levied on businesses are classified as taxes requiring two-thirds voter approval. The measure states that “reasonable regulatory costs” for inspections and investigations are considered exempt, though it does not define those terms.

Building & Safety chief Bud Ovrom said that the proposed fee has been referred to the office of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to see if it meets the exemption to Proposition 26. If not, then the proposed fee might have to be modified or could be dropped entirely.

Wire Fine

An Irwindale maker of galvanized wire has been hit with a $1.5 million judgment after pleading guilty to discharging acidic pollutants into the Los Angeles County sewer system.

Davis Wire Corp., the Irwindale subsidiary of Heico Wire Group Cos. of Downers Grove, Ill, was sentenced to pay $1.5 million in restitution to the county sanitation district and to pay a $25,000 criminal fine.

The case began in 2008 when a sanitation district employee detected highly acidic wastewater in a sewer trunk line. An investigation traced the wastewater back to the Davis Wire plant in Irwindale, which uses sulfuric acid in the wire manufacturing process. Sanitation district regulations require acidic waste liquids to be neutralized through chemical treatments before they can be discharged into the sewer system.

Sanitation district inspectors recorded a total of 14 illegal discharges in early 2008. They then turned over the case to a team of investigators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the FBI, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and other agencies.

“Their illegal discharges put the surrounding community at risk by damaging the sewer pipes and potentially impacting public health and the environment,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest.

A spokeswoman for Davis Wire said the company had no comment on the case.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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