Forget about your complicated tax credits, your net metering, and your feed-in tariff schemes. Let’s go solar the straightforward way: Mandate it!
Lancaster, Calif., in Los Angeles County, did so earlier this year, and the move had the feel of a one-off, the unique inspiration of a Republican mayor with an admirable love for renewable energy and a hankering for attention. But now the town of Sebastopol, in the apple- and grape-growing rolling hills of western Sonoma County, is following suit with a much more aggressive ordinance [PDF], suggesting that solar-by-fiat might be more viable as policy than we thought.
Sebastopol leaders this week unanimously backed an ordinance that, pending final approval later this month, will require residential and commercial buildings (Lancaster’s measure covers only residential) to include a solar-power-generating system or pay an in-lieu fee.
Under the ordinance, how much solar a building will need can be calculated by one of two methods.
Two watts of capacity per square foot will do the trick -- so we’re talking a 5-kilowatt system for a 2,500-square-foot home. That’s a pretty standard-sized setup. Compare that to Lancaster, which only requires 1 kilowatt per home.
In Sebastopol, a system would also qualify if its output meets three-quarters of the building’s electrical load on an annual basis. The ordinance also includes a provision that allows officials to exempt buildings from the requirement if a site isn’t conducive to solar, but a fee or other energy-saving measures could be required.
Mayor Michael Kyes told the Press-Democrat in nearby Santa Rosa that Sebastopol, with a population of around 7,500, already had some 1.2 megawatts of installed solar capacity. “This ordinance will add to it,” the mayor said.
According to the Press-Democrat, there was a citizen objection to the solar requirement registered at the Sebastopol Council meeting; someone said “mandatory sort of implies coercion” (a sentiment it's hard to argue with). But of course all manner of building requirements are essentially coercive, and Councilman Robert Jacob seemed to capture the sentiment of the town leaders when he said that “this ordinance is not only cost-saving…it’s the responsible thing to do.”