Zero net energy ordinance coming to a city near you

City of Lancaster, located northeast of Los Angeles on the edge of Mojave Desert, is not a tourist destination. No movie stars live here and there isn’t much around other than the nearby Edwards Air Force Base, which is closed to visitors.
But that may change as builders, urban planners, and city officials from the rest of the country and overseas come to learn from a local ordinance first passed in 2011 to promote energy efficiency and distributed solar power.
The city’s so-called solar ordinance was further strengthened in in 2014 requiring builders to include solar panels on virtually all new homes built within the city limit.

Several other communities including Sebastopol, Santa Monica and San Francisco have followed Lancaster’s example with ordinances of their own.
In early March 2017, Lancaster announced that it was going a step further by adopting what amounts to a zero net energy building code, requiring the building’s solar generation to be large enough to offset its annual electricity consumption.

Lancaster, CA: What comes after solar ordinance? Zero net energy ordinance

Lancaster’s Zero Net Energy Ordinance mandates – among other things – that each new dwelling built within city limits come with 2 watts of rooftop solar generation per square foot of living space. There are exemptions and exceptions – as usual one has to read the fine print for details – but the intent is clear: to make the community virtually self-sufficient in energy on annual basis.
In proudly announcing the passage of the new ordinance, city’s Mayor, Rex Parris, a colorful and green Republican – perhaps an oxymoron – said, “This is a great stride in Lancaster’s journey to become a Zero Net City,” adding:

“The Zero Net Energy Home Ordinance expands upon Lancaster’s residential solar ordinance so that new homes built in Lancaster now will not only be environmentally friendly, but have a zero net impact on our environment, while reducing energy costs for the homeowners.”

The new ordinance takes effect following a feasibility study, expected in April 2017, followed by an official approval from the California Energy Commission (CEC) – which is keen to see such initiatives succeed everywhere in sunny California. The rule is expected to take effect by the end of 2017. Already, home builders in the bedroom community are proceeding as if the new ordinance were in effect.

The city envisions that the marginal extra cost of the solar systems will be included in the purchase price of the new homes, barely affecting the monthly mortgage payments on typical homes.
The Lancaster’s novel city ordinance does even more on several key dimensions:

  • First, by including the solar panels and extra energy efficiency features in the new homes, there are significant cost savings compared to adding such features afterwards – studies suggest 20+% cost savings;
  • Second, there is no need for a separate lease for the solar panels or a separate mortgage to pay for them; and
  • Third, most important, is avoiding the hassle, time, effort to find a qualified and trusted contractor to install the PV system after the homeowner has moved in the house.Those are powerful reasons to build new homes that are highly efficient and energy self-sufficient from day one. The question is why is this not the law of the land everywhere?
  • A proposal under consideration in California calls for 50% renewable electricity by 2025 and 100% by 2045. Lancaster has set an example not just for 100% renewable electricity but for a zero net energy community

Fereidoon Sioshansi is president of Menlo Energy Economics, a consultancy based in San Francisco, CA and editor/publisher of EEnergy Informer, a monthly newsletter with international circulation. He can be reached at fpsioshansi@aol.com

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