Lancaster over halfway to ‘net-zero’

LANCASTER – The city ended 2014 at 54.4% of its goal of becoming a net-zero city, and city leaders said they are on the way to 100% when Lancaster can procure and produce more electricity via renewable sources than is consumed in city limits.

As the city launches its own utility in May, Lancaster Choice Energy, it is on its way to reaching 100% as early as the end of the year, city leaders said in a meeting at Antelope Valley Press. The city joins Marin and Sonoma counties in becoming a “community choice” aggregator, in which the city sells power directly to residents and businesses.

The city’s approach to net-zero status is divided into two phases. Phase One is expected to be reached by the end of this year when the city is forecast to be procuring and producing more energy via renewable sources than it consumes at its peak load of consumption, which is 215 megawatts for the year.

Phase Two is expected to be reached by 2020, with the city planning to be producing more energy via renewable sources than the total amount of energy consumed by the entire city, which is 530 megawatts. To achieve those benchmarks, city officials have developed and deployed a variety of programs aimed at involving the entire community.

“This plan was staff-driven, totally innovative,” Mayor R. Rex Parris said in a meeting with the Valley Press.

“The rewards will be huge over the next couple of decades, and we will achieve a level of self-determination we never dreamed of.”

He lauded staff development work done by Assistant City Manager Jason Caudle, city Finance Director Barbara Boswell, and a team of staff with whom they worked.

One such program is the Solar Lancaster program. Launched in 2010 in partnership with SolarCity, Solar Lancaster is an affordable solar financing program for homeowners, business owners and nonprofit organizations.

The program simplifies the process of going solar by reducing energy bills, offering financing options and discounted solar pricing, while providing custom solar system designs and monitoring.

The program, which city officials say is one of the most expansive solar community programs ever undertaken, includes such clients as Sierra Toyota, the Lancaster School District (19 sites), Desert Christian School (three sites), Eastside School District (two sites), the Lancaster Business Park and Lancaster Baptist Church.

“Leadership matters,” City Manager Mark Bozigian said. “We have a phenomenal city council.”

In addition, five city facilities, including Lancaster Municipal Stadium, City Hall and the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, are now powered with solar energy in a 1.45-megawatt project projected to save the city an estimated $6 million over 15 years.

To further integrate renewable energy into the daily lives of residents and businesses, the council last year voted to adopt a residential solar mandate, making Lancaster the first city in the nation to require all new residential construction projects to include solar power.
“In Lancaster, we take risks and move the ball forward,” Parris said. “We have to look to the well-being of people.”

The city’s business-friendly attitude toward utility-scale solar development also plays a key role in maximizing its renewable energy production, officials said.

The city’s Better Built Home program, which became available Jan. 1, gives incentives to residential builders to incorporate environmentally friendly features such as LED lighting, gray-water systems, energy storage systems and smog-eating roof tiles. By offering builders the equivalent of approximately $9,000 to $12,000 in incentives per dwelling unit, the city is able to ensure the environmentally conscious choice is the most cost-effective choice for homebuilders and future homeowners, city leaders said.

“As a city with just under 160,000 residents and thousands of businesses dispersed throughout our limits, achieving true net-zero status is a goal that most would deem impossible,” Parris said. “We are even going to do it in a shorter time frame than originally anticipated.

“Lancaster will reach net-zero status, and we will be a replicable example for communities around the world. Net-zero is possible, net-zero is cost-effective and net-zero is necessary to maintain the wellness of our planet.”