The international Zero Energy Project is challenging cities to overcome their dependence on non-renewable energy sources and the grid. Lancaster, a city near Los Angeles, is setting itself up to become a zero net energy community, providing an excellent example for cities that would like to follow its lead.
Thanks to its location near the Mojave Desert, there is plenty of sunshine to generate solar power. Wind is also reliable in the area, but the city of Lancaster is going to rely on sunshine to meet its goals by 2020.
Who Will Generate the Necessary Solar Power?
Clearly, constructing a local government owned solar array and its accompanying infrastructure would be an extremely costly exercise. But Lancaster is making progress towards its goal of becoming a zero net energy community by partnering the community and business in a solar energy drive. The Solar Lancaster project has initiated a public-private partnership with a solar energy company that offers home and business owners a chance to install solar energy that will quickly save them enough money to pay for the installation.
Cutting the Red Tape
Lancaster’s City Council has fast-tracked the solar permitting process. Instead of having to wait for weeks or months to get a solar energy permit, interested parties can obtain their permits over the counter at municipal offices. And to ensure that the current momentum isn’t spoiled by new developments without solar power, new buildings must be fitted with solar panels that will generate at least 1kW per housing unit.
Homeowners and Businesses Join the Drive Towards Being a Zero Net Energy Community
Although many people may see sustainability as requiring money rather than saving it, Lancaster’s approach is making sense to homeowners and business people. More than 1,700 homes have recently obtained solar permits, and some of the city’s most energy-intensive businesses have joined the drive.
Apart from being environmentally sound, the increased generation of solar energy directly saves them from paying high electricity bills, giving homeowners more pocket money to spend while businesses grow their profits by reducing or eliminating energy costs.
Municipality Moves Ahead with Innovative Solar Projects
The municipality isn’t leaving it entirely up to individuals and businesses. Its own municipal facilities are generating 1.5MW that will ultimately save taxpayers $6 million. The Lancaster Power Authority is also working with local schools, and has already installed innovative shade structures that will produce energy at 25 schools around the city while offering covered parking.
The city’s new affordable housing project consists entirely of homes with solar energy systems, and there are even battery storage facilities. This complex is the first in the world to combine low-cost housing with solar energy on this scale. Over 200 solar homes have been built in Lancaster as part of the project.
A large battery storage facility has been built at the Lancaster Museum of Art, and has been in operation since 2014, and the city authorities have also installed a rapid recharging station for electric vehicles.
Solar Developments Will Export Clean Energy to LA
Thanks to Lancaster’s reliable sunshine, the city has been able to attract solar developers who are engaged in constructing large solar arrays. The activity is creating hundreds of local jobs in the solar energy industry, and local Lancaster authorities are ensuring that learning institutions ae equipped to teach the skills this burgeoning industry will need. Since unemployment in the area is 15 percent, much higher than the national average, the solar energy industry is reviving Lancaster’s economy.
Since 2012, Lancaster has been recognized as the largest per capita generator of renewable energy in the US. Mayor Rex Parris says that Lancaster’s drive to become a zero net energy community is a “no-brainer” since access to energy allows for economic dominance.
Honored as Green Power Community
Five months ago, Lancaster was even honored as Green Power Community by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As a frontrunner towards a self-sufficient community in the US, above 15 million kWh of solar and wind energy were consumed in 2016. “The City of Lancaster is working hard to give our residents and businesses easier access to renewable energy, as we strive to become a Zero Net Energy City,” said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. “This recognition from the EPA reaffirms that we are on the right path, performing the right tasks, and pursuing the right vision as a community. We are proud to be forward-thinking, and a city of firsts, time and time again.”