Larry Eisenberg had a vision. "Amazing," he called it. "Spectacular."
The Los Angeles Community College District would become a paragon of clean energy. By generating solar, wind and geothermal power, the district would supply all its electricity needs. Not only would the nine colleges sever ties to the grid, saving millions of dollars a year, they would make money by selling surplus power. Thanks to state and federal subsidies, construction of the green energy projects would cost nothing upfront.
As head of a $5.7-billion, taxpayer-funded program to rebuild the college campuses, Eisenberg commanded attention. But his plan for energy independence was seriously flawed.
He overestimated how much power the colleges could generate. He underestimated the cost. And he poured millions of dollars into designs for projects that proved so impractical or unpopular they were never built.
These and other blunders cost nearly $10 million that could have paid for new classrooms, laboratories and other college facilities, a Times investigation found.
The problems with Eisenberg's energy vision were fundamental. For starters, there simply wasn't room on the campuses for all the generating equipment required to become self-sufficient. Some of the colleges wouldn't come close to that goal even if solar panels, wind turbines and other devices were wedged into every available space.
Going off the grid did not make economic sense either. Given the cost of alternative energy technology, it would be more expensive for the district to generate all its own electricity than to continue paying utilities for power.
Weather and geology also refused to cooperate.
You know what does work, in any weather? What provides non-polluting, relatively inexpensive electricity using a mature technology? Nuclear power plants. We should have more of those.