Lancaster, CA Becomes First US City to Require Solar

Every new housing development must average 1 kilowatt per house.

The Lancaster, California City Council unanimously approved changes to the city’s zoning code that require housing developers to install solar with every new home they build.

This is the latest piece in what Republican Mayor R. Rex Parris described at the City Council meeting as a plan to make Lancaster “the solar capital of the universe.”

Lancaster’s now official Residential Zones Update specifies, along with a range of green building provisions, that new single family homes meet minimum solar system requirements in the same way that they must meet minimum parking space requirements.

“The purpose of the solar energy system standards,” it reads, “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.” It is further intended “to provide standards and procedures for builders of new homes to install solar energy systems in an effort to achieve greater usage of alternative energy.”

Residential homes on lots of 7,000 square feet or more must have a solar system of 1.0 kilowatts to 1.5 kilowatts. Rural residential homes of up to 100,000 square feet must have a system of at least 1.5 kilowatts.

The standards spell out simple, commonsense rules for both roof-mounted and ground-mounted systems. They also deal with some interesting issues:

Lancaster, with a population of 150,000, built approximately 200 new homes in 2012 and is on track to build at least as many -- and therefore 200 more kilowatts of rooftop solar -- this year, the mayor told GTM. But, at the height of the financial expansion in 2007, Lancaster added 2,800 new homes, which would be 2.8 megawatts of residential rooftop solar.

To turn his city into “a place the solar industry comes to innovate,” Mayor Parris has led the City Council to:

“In Lancaster, a solar installer is issued a permit within fifteen minutes,” Parris said, “but eight miles south in Palmdale, it takes two months.”

His next targets, Parris said, are:

These are things political leaders in San Francisco and Los Angeles should be doing, Parris said, “but they lack the courage.”

Deeply concerned about what he called “the life-extinguishing possibility” of climate change, Parris praised his City Council’s courage. “These are people who want a future in Republican politics,” he said, “yet, knowing this may not be the right thing in the short term, they did what they believe is the right thing for the future.

“The salvation of this planet, if it is not already too late, will be from the bottom up,” Parris said, “and there is no reason Lancaster can’t be the example for the world.”