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:

  • A builder’s model home must show the kind of solar system the builder will offer.
  • Builders of subdivisions will be able to aggregate the houses’ requirements. If ten houses in a subdivision each have a one-kilowatt requirement, the builder can install a single ten-kilowatt system, two five-kilowatt systems or four 2.5-kilowatt systems.
  • If a housing tract is built in phases, each phase must meet the requirement.
  • Multifamily developments can meet the requirement with a rooftop system or a system on a support or shade structure.
  • Finally, and importantly, builders “may 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.”

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:

  • Create the California Clean Energy Authority, which has brought in utility-scale solar developers like Silverado Power and a pipeline of 700 megawatts of large-scale solar within the city’s boundaries;
  • Create the High Desert Power Authority, which has proposed a new transmission project to the state’s grid operator that would increase the delivery of renewables-generated electricity to other municipal utilities and relieve grid congestion between Northern and Southern California; and
  • Create Solar Lancaster in partnership with SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY), SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), and other installers, which identified Creative Renewable Energy Zones (CREZs) that have spawned over 27 megawatts of distributed solar across the city, including 7.5 megawatts of solar on Lancaster’s schools at a profit to the city.

“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:

  • Requiring all new homes to be meet LEED certification standards
  • Requiring grey water systems on all new homes
  • Requiring, when partner BYD's batteries are certified, battery systems for new homes’ solar systems so they would be energy-independent for up to four days, and
  • Using LED bulbs and batteries so the city’s street lights will be entirely off-grid.

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.”