Business

05.10.13

California Towns Pass Law Requiring New Buildings to Have Solar Panels

Two towns in California have passed laws requiring newly built homes to install solar panels. Is mandating green energy the wave of the future?

Can you force people to go green?

Two cities in the Golden State have recently made it mandatory that new homes install solar panels.

On Tuesday, Sebastapol, a small town in the Sonoma Valley, become the second city in the state to pass an ordinance requiring all new buildings and additions to put up solar voltaic panels.

The liberal town of Sebastopol has fewer than 8,000 residents and passed the law with little controversy. Sebastopol’s ordinance orders that the solar systems must provide 2 watts of power per square foot or offset 75 percent of the structure’s electricity use.

Farther south, the desert city of Lancaster, California was the first city across the country to require solar panels on new buildings. Despite the city’s politics, which are largely conservative, the city council of this city of 150,000 unanimously approved a change to its zoning code in March to require housing developers to install solar voltaic systems on newly constructed homes.

The change was a push by the city’s mayor, Republican R. Rex Parris, to make Lancaster the “solar capital of the universe.” According to the new code, new homes with lots that are 7,000 sq. feet or more must have solar panels that can produce up to 1 kilowatt of energy at any given time. Homes in rural areas must be able to produce 1.5 kilowatts with their systems.

The number mandated is a small percent of the overall electricity a household will use. And it applies only to newly built homes, not to existing homes. But city planners in Lancaster are hoping the numbers will eventually add up and people will install larger systems because of the government rebates that are offered. “The intent of declaring this minimum average was to make sure that for every new residential development coming in there’s a certain amount of renewable energy being created,” said a spokesperson for the Lancaster City Planning Department.

Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior vice president of state affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association says she thinks mandated solar power is a trend that will likely grow but that people shouldn’t worry that a wave of change will happen in their neighborhoods anytime soon.

“Will it be rampant? Some people don’t like to be forced and mandated. I think we will see a trend of something along these lines, but maybe not so dramatic,” she said.

As for the benefits of solar panel laws and regulations, Hitt thinks it depends on the community.

“I think ultimately it really depends on the city or town that you’re talking about. If you have a constituency embracing this, then why not?” Hitt said. “If you have a city and town that is not embracing this then people are not going to like it and it won’t work.”

California is already a solar-power-friendly state, it’s ranked first in the country with the most solar jobs (third highest per capita) by the Solar Foundation, and has more solar workers than it has actors.