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The California City That Made Solar Mandatory

Starting this year, new home builders in Lancaster, Calif., must provide 1 kilowatt of solar-generated electricity per housing unit within a subdivision.

Successful green initiatives sometimes create their own problems. High-mileage and electric vehicles, for example, cut into government gasoline tax revenues, setting off a search for another form of taxation such as miles traveled. And home solar systems are creating resistance from electrical utilities that see such systems cutting into their $360 billion a year in power sales and a threat to “the hegemony of the conventional grid,” according to Bloomberg.

But rooftop solar generation is definitely looking like a success in some regions of the country.

Take the state of California, which doubled its rooftop solar electricity generating capacity from 1,000MW to 2,000MW in 2013, according to ThinkProgress. And as Bloomberg reports, in the past two years, some 200,000 U.S. homes and businesses installed rooftop solar systems -- systems that generate about 3 gigawatts of power, which could potentially replace four or five coal-powered generating plants.

But accompanying that progress is pushback from utilities, especially in places like Hawaii, with very high energy costs and plenty of sunshine. In Oahu, says Bloomberg, connections have doubled yearly since 2008, but some homeowners were blocked from connecting to the grid and ended up paying for the solar system in addition to their regular utility bill.

And California’s rapid “solarization” is also encountering resistance from utilities in the form of “grid fees” that would add about $120 a year to the bills of those implementing rooftop solar systems. Similar conflicts are happening in many other states, but in most cases, compromises are being worked out.

In one California city, however, the game is about to change -- and that change could bring things to a head much sooner.

In Lancaster, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles, the city enacted an ordinance -- which was subsequently approved by the state energy commission -- that would require new home builders to provide 1 kilowatt (kW) of solar-generated electricity per housing unit within a subdivision, though solar energy systems do not have to be on every home, according to a news release.

“It will help stabilize our electricity rate,” said Director of Public Works Robert C. Neal in the news release. “In fact, our building codes are moving in the direction where we will see mandated by the state that’s net zero homes; the target date for it to be in building codes is 2020.”


Daniel Luzer is GOVERNING's news editor.
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