On Tuesday, the City Council of Lancaster, California approved a mandate that most new homes must produce solar energy. This is the first such mandate in the nation.
Lancaster is a suburb in northeast Los Angeles county, and this new rule had no bigger advocate that Mayor Rex Parris, who is a Republican. He has long sought to make Lancaster “the solar energy capital of the world.”
Lancaster isn’t your prototypical hotbed of greenie environmentalists. Yet Mayor Parris said the rule wasn’t controversial: “It serves as a model. Here I am in an extremely conservative area, and there was almost no push-back.”
The mandate requires for any new home construction permit issued after January 1, 2014, builders must meet a minimum number of kilowatts of solar energy produced per house. This gives builders flexibility, allowing a larger solar installation on a few homes rather than a cookie-cutter solution to every home. The rate would be 1 to 1.5 kilowatts of solar per 7,000 square foot lot. Rural homes on 100,000 square feet must have at least 1.5 kilowatts. Prospective home buyers will be able to see the solar system offered in the builder’s model home.
Some home builders are not happy because they see this as something that puts them at a disadvantage with their main competitor: the resale market. But the mandate does not necessarily mean that a project cannot move forward if the builder doesn’t want to install solar panels: they can “choose to meet the solar energy generation requirement off-site by providing evidence of purchasing solar energy credits from another solar-generating development located within the City.”
And Parris says that the opposition just part of the process: “I understand the building industry is not happy with this. We will just have to take the heat.” The Mayor didn’t pursue this mandate simply to make Lancaster a solar hub. According to E&E News, he also sees climate change as a pressing problem that his fellow Republicans would be smart to acknowledge.
“The one thing we have to recognize is just how desperate this situation is with global warming,” Parris said, “and at the same time recognize that we can actually fix it. We have tremendous capability if we just have the courage to do it.” …
“The Republican Party is in a quandary because the polling shows that the voters support environmental protection. It’s the leadership that doesn’t,” Parris said. “You’d have to be a moron to discount global warming. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t recognize it’s occurring.”
The U.S. faces increased threats of drought and other impacts of climate change. 2013 is expected to bring more drought. The National Drought Early Warning Outlook said last month that California’s drought forecast was particularly alarming:
California has the greatest chance of abnormally dry weather, said David Miskus, a seasonal forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center, part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
Parts of California were just beginning to recover from drought at the end of last year, Miskus said. The northern half of the state had been mostly drought-free of late but now a drought seems likely to develop.
“They started out so well, in November and December they had really good strong rains, they had good snow packs in the Sierra Nevadas,” Miskus told Reuters after the outlook’s unveiling. By February, however, conditions were dry, and this is typically California’s wettest month, he said.
Fortunately, Lancaster is not the only city in California making solar and other renewables a priority: the state leads the nation in solar projects, solar megawatts installed, and the average cost per watt of solar.