California Town Aims To Be Solar Power Capital Of The World

By Pierre Dumont , Apr 09, 2013 12:03 PM EDT
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A mayor in California wants to make his town the solar power capital of the world.

The town, called Lancaster, is run by Republican Mayor R. Rex Parris. The plan involves a large number of solar panels being placed throughout Lancaster, generating 126 megawatts of solar power. In order to reach this goal, Parris is requiring that almost all new homes either come with solar panels or be located in subdivisions that produce one kilowatt of solar power per house.

"We want to be the first city that produces more electricity from solar energy than we consume on a daily basis," Parris said.

According to Michelle Kinman, a clean energy advocate at research and lobbying group Environment California, Lancaster's number of residential installations has tripled in the past 18 months.

"Lancaster is breaking new ground," Kinman said.

Part of Lancaster's goal in creating a solar energy capital is to foster job growth. The unemployment rate in Lancaster is 15.5 percent and increased solar power could lead to reduced public expenses and more private jobs. Parris feels that in order to properly take advantage of what green energy has to offer, Lancaster must be at the center of the solar power movement.

"We want to make Lancaster the center," Parris said. "If they [entrepreneurs] come and have an idea to create energy without a carbon footprint, [Lancaster] will move mountains for them."

According to Parris, it only takes 15 minutes to receive a permit for installing a solar device in the town.

Currently, solar panels in Lancaster adorn a developer's office, a medical office, churches and even a Toyota dealership. In total, the performing arts center, stadium and City Hall all generate 1.5 megawatts. Parris' business partners include home system installer SolarCity and Chinese battery, panel and electrical vehicle maker BYD. The private companies investing in Lancaster have responded positively to the initiatives.

"It' so business-friendly here, it's not even funny," SolarCity Regional Vice President Jim Cahill said.

Parris claims that global warming will eventually convince other towns to invest in renewable energy, given the rising cost of keeping desert houses cool.

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