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In This One California Town, New Houses Must Come With Solar Power

Starting in 2014, every new house needs to produce at least 1 kilowatt of energy

smithsonian.com

A house in Lancaster, California gets a solar power retrofit. Photo: KN6KS

A desert terrain, a southerly latitude and a “colorful mayor” have joined forces to turn Lancaster, California, a city of around 150,000 that lies northeast of Los Angeles, into the solar capital “of the universe” says the New York Times. The city, says Geek.com, “now officially earned the distinction of being the first US city to mandate the inclusion of solar panels on all new homes built within the city limits.”

Technically the solar powered mandate isn’t so hard and fast, and builders have a bit of wiggle room. Starting January 1st, either they can build solar panels into their designs, producing one kilowatt of electricity for each city lot, or the builders can buy a “solar energy credit” to offset their non-energy-producing ways—money which would go to fund larger solar developments.

The city’s push into solar, says the Times, is being spearheaded by its Republican mayor Robert Rex Parris.

His solar push began about three years ago; City Hall, the performing arts center and the stadium together now generate 1.5 megawatts. Solar arrays on churches, a big medical office, a developer’s office and a Toyota dealership provide 4 more.

The biggest power payoff came with the school system. After the Lancaster school board rejected an offer from SolarCity, saying it was unaffordable, the city created a municipal utility. It bought 32,094 panels, had them installed on 25 schools, generated 7.5 megawatts of power and sold the enterprise to the school district for 35 percent less than it was paying for electricity at the time. Another 8 megawatts now come from systems operating at the local high school and Antelope Valley College.

Parris’ goal for Lancaster, says a 2010 story from the Los Angeles Times, is to see the city “produce more energy than we consume before 2020.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

Island Nation Now Runs Entirely On Solar Power

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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