A Republican mayor campaigns for a historic requirement for solar on new homes.
Herman K. Trabish: March 1, 2013
Rex Parris, the mayor of Lancaster, California, wants every new home in his city to host solar. And starting next January, that could be a reality.
Yesterday in Lancaster, homebuilder KB Home celebrated its 1,000th new home with solar panels from SunPower. Speaking at the event, Mayor Parris announced his city will institute a first-of-its-kind requirement that solar be installed on every new single-family home built in Lancaster after January 1, 2014.
The new law will be written into Lancaster’s “Residential Zones Update” on residential solar. Along with a range of green building provisions, it specifies that new single family homes meet minimum solar system 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 from 7,000 square feet must have a solar system of 1.0 kilowatt 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, common-sense 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 1.0 kilowatt requirement, the builder can install a single 10-kilowatt system, two 5-kilowatt systems or four 2.5 kilowatt systems.
If a housing tract is built in phases, each phase must meet the requirement.
Multi-family developments can meet the requirement with a rooftop system or a system on a support or shade structure.
Finally, 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.”
Mayor Parris, who frequently promises to make Lancaster “the solar energy capital of the world,” expressed confidence that he has the City Council votes for approval, despite resistance from the building industry.
“I understand the building industry is not happy with this,” Parris said. “We will just have to take the heat. I could not do that without a City Council — made up of people who want a political career — with the courage to take that heat.”
The building industry should understand “that we work with them, not for them,” he said. “They are not in a hurry to disrupt our partnership. Opposition would disrupt it.”
Even with resistance from some members of the building community, the market is shifting.
“There are a rapidly increasing number of solar homes being built,” said Matt Brost, SunPower’s national director for new home sales. “One of every five built in California this year will be solar powered.”
Along with partnering with KB Home, SunPower has worked with other major home builders like Lennar Homes, Richmond American Homes, and Standard Pacific Homes.
Mayor Parris, a Republican, noted that Lancaster is “one of the most conservative Republican districts in the country. But Republicans are smart,” he said. “When you show them a solution, they will take it.”