Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Research Spotlight: Ann Carlson

September 9, 2019

Ann Carlson is the Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and the Faculty Co-Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law. Carlson is also on the faculty at the UCLA Institute of the Environment (IoES). She is one of the country’s leading scholars of climate, energy and air pollution law and policy.

Ann Carlson, UCLA’s Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and faculty co-director of the UCLA Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment, is one of the country’s leading scholars of climate change law and policy.

Carlson regularly provides expert legal analysis for top media outlets, including L.A Times, 60 Minutes, and L.A. Magazine. Along with Law Professor William Boyd, she directs Sustainable LA Grand Challenge research on greening LA’s power grid by comparing the regulatory models of the region’s two utility companies.

Q: Tell us about your Sustainable LA Grand Challenge research.

“My co-author, UCLA IoES and Law Professor William Boyd, and I are evaluating how our local electric utilities — the L.A. Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and Southern California Edison (SCE) — are working to transform our system of electricity to achieve a decarbonized grid by mid-century. Decarbonization of the grid is crucial not only to provide green electricity but also to electrify our vehicle fleet.

L.A.’s two utilities are especially interesting as case studies because their ownership structures are so different and they operate in separate regulatory environments. LADWP is a municipally owned utility governed by a board appointed by the Mayor. SCE is an investor-owned utility governed by the California Public Utilities Commission.  We are looking at whether existing policies are actually being implemented effectively and determining whether new policies are necessary to speed the transition.”

Q: How do you see this research transforming Los Angeles?

The Los Angeles area cannot achieve carbon neutrality unless its major utilities are fully engaged and using all available tools and levers to integrate renewable energy, build electric vehicle infrastructure, maximize energy efficiency, transform their distribution systems to integrate distributed energy resources, develop adequate storage capacity, use pricing to incentivize conservation, and maximize incentives for rooftop solar.  Our research is designed to determine whether these very different organizations, LADWP and SCE, will be able to do what is key to L.A.’s carbon-free future.

Q: What’s unique about doing a study like this in Los Angeles?

Los Angeles is the only major metropolis in the United States that is served by two vastly different utilities, a municipal utility and an investor-owned utility.  There are crucial lessons to be learned for states and cities across the country about how these different ownership structures and regulatory environments work to transform our electricity and transportation systems.