In the high desert city of Lancaster, Calif., not too far from where telephone pole-hoarding folk hero Alan Kimble Fahey was forced to demolish his home and where a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad known only as The Bride had her nuptials officially ruined, mayor R. Rex Parris recently announced a pioneering update to the city’s residential building code: Starting on Jan. 1, 2014, all newly constructed single-family homes must include a 1.0 kW solar system at bare minimum.
A law mandating solar for all new homes? That’s right … a bold — and certainly historic — move but not entirely surprising for the Los Angeles County city of more than 155,000 that leads the state of California in solar generating capacity. Parris, hell-bent on branding his sprawling Antelope Valley community not just as the solar capital of California but as the “solar energy capital of the world,” has already overseen some major photovoltaic-related developments in the past couple of years.
Most notably, in 2010 Lancaster partnered with SolarCity to launch a successful solar financing program for homeowners, nonprofits and businesses called Solar Lancaster. According to Greentech Media, the 1.45-megawatt program — it extends not only to private homes and businesses but also to city hall, the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, Clear Channel Stadium, churches, schools and more — will generate $1.5 million annually through 2017 and then $800,000 per year for the next 20 years. Hey, when you’re blessed with 300 days of sunshine, a high altitude, and a whole lot of flat roofs, going for broke when it comes to solar investments only seems logical (even in a heavily conservative town led by a no-nonsense Republican mayor).
Additionally, Lancaster is home to several utility-scale solar production plants including eSolar's groundbreaking Sierra Sun Tower.
The requirement that all new homes must be equipped with solar systems will be written into Lancaster’s “Residential Zones Update.” Reads a draft of the update: "The purpose of the solar energy system standards is to encourage investment in solar energy on all parcels in the city, while providing guidelines for the installation of those systems that are consistent with the architectural and building standards of the City."
Specifically, all newly built single-family family homes on lots larger than 7,000-square-feet must have a 1kW to 1.5 kW system. The minimum for rural homes on lots greater than 100,00-square-feet is 1.5 kW.
A flamboyant personal injury attorney and Kenny Rogers lookalike who was born and raised in Lancaster, Parris has been praised for his aggressive and at times controversial crime-reduction efforts in addition to his commitment to clean energy. He made the big announcement at an event sponsored by L.A.-based mega-builder KB Home, a company that worked with Lancaster to erect numerous solar-centric developments in and around Antelope Valley.
Parris, who addressed the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi this past January, acknowledged that the new regulations would be met with opposition by the building industry: “I understand the building industry is not happy with this. We will just have to take the heat. I could not do that without a city council — made up of people who want a political career — with the courage to take that heat.”
Lancaster — California's 30th largest city and the fourth largest city in the Mojave Desert — was founded in the 19th century as a railway water stop. Aside from the presence of Edwards Air Force Base to the northeast and a storied aerospace legacy that it shares with neighboring Palmdale, it's perhaps best known for being the childhood home of a young Minnesota transplant named Frances Ethel Gumm.
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