Solar Panel Reflections

Last night, the Lancaster City Council approved three items which will propel its efforts forward to offer Community Choice Aggregation to its businesses and residents. The Community Choice Aggregator (CCA) Service Agreement with Southern California Edison (SCE) was approved, along with the Electric Service Provider (ESP) Registration Application Form. The latter begins the process of registration with the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) and SCE. With the approval to move forward on these items, the City remains on track to not only implement its CCA ‘Lancaster Choice Energy’ in 2015, but also achieve the ambition of Net Zero status in the future.

“Our City’s goals in the alternative energy arena have always been ambitious, and we are very pleased by how quickly they are coming to fruition,” said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. “Every step we take feeds into the bigger picture of establishing renewable energy as the foundation of local power, and thus community sustainability. Lancaster’s realization of Net Zero status is closer than many think. The Lancaster Choice Energy program will be well underway by this time next year, and we are extremely excited about offering our citizens the power to choose.”

The mission to establish Lancaster Choice Energy officially began on May 13, 2014, when the Lancaster City Council approved the implementation plan which outlined the City’s intent to establish a Community Choice Aggregator. A month later, the approved plan was submitted to the CPUC for review and certification. Final certification is imminent.

The approvals provided at last evening’s City Council Meeting begin the next step in the process of establishing the City’s CCA. The CCA service agreement with Southen California Edison governs the relationship between Lancaster Choice Energy and SCE.

The service agreement identifies SCE as maintaining ownership and responsibility for the transmission and distribution of lines throughout the service area, in addition to ongoing billing and customer service support. This key contractual obligation will ensure minimal impact and maximum ease of use for Lancaster businesses and residents.

The distinguishing feature of the agreement is the CCA’s role in not only providing electrical energy to consumers, but also establishing its own rates for that energy. Essentially, citizens will have the utmost control in weighing the various factors which determine their choice for energy resource. They can remain with Southern California Edison or they can choose Lancaster Choice Energy. The crucial factor with this program is the City is giving them the power to choose.

An added benefit of Lancaster Choice Energy is having local leadership available to address citizen concerns, since the CCA will be administered directly by the City. The current process requires citizens to make appeals to the CPUC in San Francisco when rate and environmental impact issues arise. While this may not pose an inconvenience for some, it is fundamentally important for additional options to be provided to the public. Competition in the local marketplace is always healthy for driving competitive pricing, as well as freedom of choice, particularly in a service category which is a necessity for most everyone.

The availability of Lancaster Choice Energy is fast-approaching. However, additional agreements, such as the Binding Notice of Intent (BNI), will still require approval from the Lancaster City Council. When the BNI is approved and submitted to Southern California Edison in the first quarter of 2015, Lancaster Choice Energy will be officially authorized to provide energy to local consumers. At that time, the City’s three-phase rollout of energy service will commence as follows: Phase 1 – Municipal enrollment in May 2015; Phase 2 – Commercial/Industrial enrollment in November 2015; and Phase 3 – Residential enrollment by November 2016 (if not sooner).

Solar Panel Installation

SASH Brings Affordable Solar Energy Systems to Low-Income Households while Prepping Local Volunteers for Careers in Solar Industry

Lancaster, CA. August 27, 2014 –During last night’s meeting, the Lancaster City Council approved the Low Income Housing Solar Program, known as SASH: Single-Family Affordable Housing. The program, which is managed by the non-profit organization Grid Alternatives Greater Los Angeles (GLA) on behalf of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), will fund the installation of solar systems on qualified low-income households, providing Lancaster residents affordable options for investing in alternative energy. The program will also provide hands-on experience for local students and workers to install this solar technology, thus aiding the local workforce as it transitions into the new energy economy.

A program within the CPUC’s California Solar Initiative, SASH works to help communities gain optimal access to solar energy technology. Specifically, SASH involves the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on qualified residential homes, thus lowering utility bills while raising property values. When the program becomes available to Lancaster residents, all households may apply to receive the SASH PV installation, but only qualified low-income households will receive their installation at little to no charge.

SASH also provides local students and other volunteer workers with the skills they need to pursue a career in solar installation. The City will work with GLA to establish a training program partnership with local job training and community college programs. Via these partnerships, trainees will have the opportunity to participate in solar electric system installations in the community.

In addition to helping residents and local workers transition into the growing alternative energy arena, the SASH program will help put Lancaster even closer to its goal of becoming America’s first Net-Zero city. By making solar technology available to residents of all socio-economic statuses, SASH further enables the entire Lancaster community to make the solar transition together.

“The SASH program is a remarkable program that will benefit our residents and our workforce,” said Mayor R. Rex Parris. “The program will bring us even closer to our Net-Zero ambitions by providing all of our residents an opportunity to utilize solar energy- a natural, abundant and cost efficient and resource.”
For more information regarding GLA and SASH, call Grid Alternatives toll-free at (866) 921-4696 or visit For more information regarding the California Solar Initiative, visit

Solar Roof Panels

Lancaster, CA. June 25, 2014— During last night’s meeting, the Lancaster City Council adopted three resolutions which will enable property owners to voluntarily participate in three statewide programs that provide financing for the addition of energy-efficient improvements to properties. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing enables any qualifying property owner, whether commercial or residential, to voluntarily enter in to a contractual agreement with any of three state organizations to finance the entire cost of energy conservation, distributed generation, or water conservation improvements to the property.

“These PACE programs are an exceptional addition to our ongoing efforts to encourage green energy development throughout our City,” said Mayor R. Rex Parris. “In addition to providing for energy development, these resources allow property owners to make tangible, practical, and across the board efficiency improvements on their property. Assuring these choices are available to our property owners is clearly the most reasonable choice for the future of our city.”

The three PACE financing programs approved for operation within City jurisdiction last night include the California Home Energy Renovation Opportunity (HERO) program, the CaliforniaFIRST program, and the Figtree PACE program. All of these programs allow property owners to finance the entire cost of green improvements through these entities, and to pay off the cost of the project through voluntary annual assessments on the owner’s property tax bill.

The HERO program serves as a turnkey program for numerous county and city governments throughout California that are seeking to engage in PACE financing for renewable energy generation, as well as energy and water efficiency improvements. The program primarily focuses on residential improvements.

The CaliforniaFIRST program was developed by the California Statewide Communities Development Authority (CSCDA) in order to provide its member agencies (which include the City of Lancaster) with PACE financing. The Figtree PACE program is sponsored by the California Enterprise Development Authority (of which the City of Lancaster is also a member) and focuses on providing financing for commercial, industrial, retail, and multi-family residential projects.

“The inclusion of a method to provide for greater financial flexibility for property owners in our effort to spur environmentally responsible building enhancements here in the City of Lancaster is simply yet another means of providing educated choices to our constituents. I look forward to the increase in environmental stewardship by both residents and business owners that these programs afford,” concluded Mayor R. Rex Parris.

Lancaster City Hall

Lancaster, CA. May 14, 2014— During last night’s Lancaster City Council meeting, the City Council approved an ordinance declaring the City’s intent to explore establishment of a Community Choice Aggregator (CCA). The program named Lancaster Choice Energy will procure and sell power to Lancaster businesses and residents at competitive rates, while also delivering a consumer-driven mix of energy choices featuring clean energy and local generation. Rates will be set by the City Council, providing for local control and greater accountability.

“We are eager to get this program underway because it empowers our citizens with the ability to choose their energy providers,” said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. “Price competitive choices will be available, offering a tremendous benefit to residents and business owners who can select which options best meet their needs. Choice Energy will open up the market and be consumer-driven, setting the path for an even brighter energy future for Lancaster residents.”

Southern California Edison (SCE) will continue to provide transmission, distribution, and billing services, as well as hold ownership of all physical power transmission assets. Additionally, power outages and line repairs will continue to be handled by SCE.

One of the most attractive features for residents will be ‘You-tility’, which will provide two energy generating options from which to choose; a renewable energy source for a slightly higher cost and an economy package that maximizes cost-savings. The City will also have the ability to establish specialized economic development rates to aid in business attraction and job creation through the ‘Clear Choice’ program.

The Lancaster City Council will require staff to return before them for final approval as the process progresses and implementation nears. City staff will continue to work with industry experts to further explore and develop the CCA effort. If all goes well and the effort remains favorable; municipal City accounts will transfer to CCA service in May 2015. Commercial availability will be next, followed by residential transfers to CCA service later in 2015.

“The City will be the test case for this program because we want to make sure any potential issues are addressed and dealt with prior to public enrollment,” added Mayor Parris. “We will ensure business owners and residents experience a smooth and successful transition to Choice Energy.”

During the enrollment period, customers will receive a minimum of four notices via mail informing them of their enrollment date and providing details about the Choice Energy program. Customers who wish to remain with SCE can follow a simple opt-out procedure.

Lancaster City Sign Black & White

R. Rex Parris is the mayor of Lancaster, California – a city of 158,000 inhabitants close to Los Angeles.  He’s both a Republican and a strong believer that we have an obligation to do everything we can to combat the impending threat of climate change. With respect to climate change, he was quoted last year in the New York Times as saying “I may be a Republican, but I’m not an idiot.”

In a wide-ranging conversation last month, he repeatedly referred to the climate issue.
As far as global warming is concerned, all the trends support it…We don’t want to believe we are facing extinction because it’s so overwhelming.  The disruptions in populations are going to be significant.

The most recent National Climate Assessment, released this week, supports the urgency Parris feels, but he also sees this as a good business opportunity. So he is doing all that he can as a community leader to position his community for survival and success in the world he sees coming.  Becoming net zero, and producing more electricity than Lancaster uses, is just part of the mayor’s overall agenda. He also wants to see Lancaster emerge as a central hub in the new energy economy.

Parris explained the rationale and the multi-faceted city plan, and he starts with a simple premise, The role of government is to set up the rules.

One critical rule has to do with the city’s building codes.  Starting this year, all new single-family homes must include a 1.0 kilowatt solar system.  Parris commented that after taking office, he was looking at the larger utility scale solar arrays, and got one located nearby.
After I was elected, we used parabolic mirrors to create solar energy and erected a 5 MW plant without having to lay a foundation of any kind…They were able to get electric costs down to about 11 cents per kWh.

As he continued to observe the space, he noted that costs of solar photo-voltaics were falling quickly,
Then the bottom fell out of the PV… it dropped by about 70%. Now PV is much cheaper.
So Parris adopted a multi-pronged approach, and applied some systems thinking to the issue. He started with the need to improve the overall efficiency of energy use in the residential sector. Parris began working with the local representatives at KB Homes to develop a net zero home and got them on board.

They used to be like any other builder, except they built faster and cheaper.  They took huge risks, but now every KB home has a solar option which significantly lowers monthly payments for the house.  So you can buy a bigger house, since monthly payments are so much less.  They’ve developed a very innovative culture, and they are rewarding the people who come up with the best ideas to build the best homes.  Here in Lancaster, they now have a net zero 2.0 home, that not only produces more electricity than it uses but also cuts a third of the gas and 40% of the water consumption.

The first of these was unveiled this February in Lancaster, and it is estimated to save an estimated $4,452 in energy and water savings annually.

Parris commented that such efficiency gains require a commitment to systems thinking, “by addressing every facet of the house, but that requires a big business model.  It requires people to start changing how they think.”

In the process of working with KB Homes and focusing on the housing space, Parris recognized an interesting fact. Home builders will likely build a better house if they think somebody is watching.

If you take the same house, the ones they know are going to be inspected are 30% more efficient.  That tells me I will have to figure out an ordinance to have all new housing inspected.  I would outsource to an approved contractor.  This idea should go nationwide.  It would have a huge impact on the CO2 footprint if we just started doing this – make the builder build the house they say the are going to build.  I think that’s where government intervention has a place.  Before my term ends as mayor we will have an ordinance that every new house has to be net zero.  It’s not so hard – now that we know how to do it.

Parris has also achieved national recognition for his successful efforts in simplifying the permitting, interconnection, and inspection process for installing solar. This area – known as PII – is a ‘soft cost’ that makes rooftop solar more expensive and time-consuming than it needs to be.  In some cases, it can take months to get a system approved, with multiple agencies involved in the process.  In Germany, by contrast, municipalities have a one-stop shopping permitting process.  Lancaster was the first U.S. jurisdiction to put a similar approach in place, and it has now been followed by other places such as Vermont.
One thing I learned was one of the biggest concerns was how long it would take to get a permit.  I learned how difficult it was to get a permit.  The biggest problem was this delay.  Now all solar panels for homes in Lancaster are over the counter in just one visit.
Beyond the residential needs of his constituents he turned to the community infrastructure itself, pushing for solar wherever it was feasible.

97% of our municipal buildings are solar and all our schools are solar.  We actually make money because of the financing model.  Savings to taxpayers are running up on a million dollars.  Even at our baseball field – a state of the art stadium – 97% of the power comes from the sun as well.

Beyond that, Parris has set a goal of positioning Lancaster to benefit from the long term trends he sees evolving in the energy arena, as well as the city’s convenient location,
I also look at complexity and chaos theory and I understand that in order to excel in a field you have to be at the center.  In finance, it’s London, New York or Hong Kong.  In computers, it’s Silicon Valley. In Lancaster we have been at the center of the aerospace industry for a long time, so we have experience being at center of technological developments and breakthroughs. I’ve set out to make us the center of alternative energy and it’s starting to come true.

He is not afraid to utilize the power of his office to get the dialogue started.
We were able to attract the BYD BYD bus company (a Chinese company, of which approximately 10% is owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Berkshire Hathaway) – it took me four trips to get it. They chose Lancaster, which at the time surprised everybody…I put KB Homes together with BYD… Because I’m the mayor I can call meetings and people come.  I asked them to team together and build an affordable net zero house.  They utilized batteries produced by BYD and they are working together on battery storage for homes.
There becomes a synergy to such relationships, and they develop more and more technologies.  Its fascinating what happens when you start telling people ‘we want innovation now, we want you to help save the planet with us.’

Parris sees Lancaster as an ideal location for greentech companies to set up shop, in part because of its ready access to transportation links,

We are the only part of LA that remains undeveloped, and most of the land is disturbed so there are no real environmental issues. We have two runaways that will accommodate the Airbus 380, we are minutes away from the trucking route into LA, and we are located next to rail spurs.  We are going to be the energy center.  When I first started saying it, people laughed and said I tended toward hyperbole.  Once BYD came, the people stopped laughing.
At the end of the day, Lancaster’s mayor points out that while many of the problems we face are indeed global, the solutions have to come from somewhere. And somebody needs to get the momentum started.  There is, he comments, a very significant role for local communities to become principal catalytic agents. And he is not shy about what he thinks his responsibility is in this regard.

A large percentage of these problems can be resolved at the local level, and I am setting out to prove it.  I have two years and then I will run again for four. My approval rating is 76%, although at some point I will push the city too far and they will kick me out.
Let’s hope that’s sometime in the distant future.

Covered Parking Black & White

LANCASTER – Lancaster residents and businesses could be buying their electricity from the city by the end of 2015 as city officials plan a “community choice aggregation” system like ones in Marin County and Sonoma County as the next step in the city’s solar-power efforts.
Under the “Choice Energy” proposal due to be voted upon Tuesday by the City Council, residents could sign up for a renewable-energy option or an economy package at rates city officials said their analysis shows could meet or beat Southern California Edison’s rates.”This is the next step towards a brighter energy future for Lancaster residents,” Mayor R. Rex Parris said Friday in the city’s announcement, which followed comments he has made in recent months about the idea. “By providing residents a price-competitive choice of energy providers, Choice Energy will open the door to numerous options for the benefit of Lancaster.”
The vote scheduled for the City Council meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 44933 Fern Ave., would declare the city’s intent to establish the community choice aggregation.

It would also authorize staffers to submit an implementation plan to the California Public Utilities Commission and release a request for information from firms that could arrange for electrical power supplies. If the results are positive, city administrators then would return to the City Council for approval to establish the power plan.

As envisioned now, the power system would first be used for city buildings and facilities starting in early 2015, then Lancaster business, and then residences by the end of 2015, officials said. Under the plan, Southern California Edison would continue to own and maintain power lines and other electrical distribution equipment in Lancaster. Residents and businesses would continue to get electric bills sent out by Edison, which would contain an electrical delivery fee charged by Edison plus an electrical generation charge from the city’s energy authority.
City officials said the proposed electrical rates have not been set and will be determined in coming months. In the future, the rates will be set by the city, rather than by the California Public Utility Commission, which has authority over Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and other investor-owned utilities. In addition, Lancaster residents and businesses could choose to remain customers only of Edison, officials said.

In Marin County, for example, the Marin Energy Authority began serving customers four years ago as Marin Clean Energy, the first community choice aggregation to go into operation under a state law passed in 2002, following California’s so-called “electricity crisis” that saw statewide rolling blackouts. About 125,000 homes and businesses are customers, or about 80% of the county and neighboring Richmond, while about 20% remain customers of Pacific Gas & Electric, spokeswoman Jamie Tuckey said. Sonoma County’s community choice aggregation agency began serving its first customers May 1.

For a typical Marin County residence using 500 kilowatts a month, the average monthly electric bill is about $83 for PG&E customers, $82 with Marin Clean Energy’s Light Green plan and $87 with its Dark Green plan, she said. For a typical commercial customer using a little over 1,000 kilowatts a month, the monthly bill is about $272 with PG&E, $259 with Light Green and $270 with Dark Green, she said. The Light Green plan uses 50% “renewable” sources including solar, wind, geothermal and small hydro-electric power, she said. The Deep Green plan uses 100% renewable sources.

The agency recently launched a third plan that uses energy from a new solar field in Marin County, she said. Marin Clean Energy customers get one bill, which carries Marin Clean Energy’s electrical generation charge and PG&E’s delivery charge. For residential customers, that’s about $36 of the $82 or $87 typical bill, records show.

Proposed state legislation could make it more difficult for new community choice aggregation agencies to get started. When the Marin and Sonoma agencies started, homes and businesses automatically were enrolled as their customers; if any wanted to stay with PG&E, they had to “opt out” to do so. Assembly Bill 2145, however, would make community choice aggregation agencies convince customers to sign up with them. If Lancaster’s project goes into service, it would be the first community choice aggregation agency in Southern California Edison’s territory. Asked for comment, a Southern California Edison spokesman provided this statement: “SCE is neutral in regards to local government efforts to explore becoming a Community Choice Aggregator (CCA).

SCE works with local governments in its service territory, at their request, to provide information to officials interested in CCA.” City officials said the plan to first begin serving city facilities, then commercial and later residential accounts, will help smooth the transition for customers. “We are firmly committed to ensuring that this is a successful program,” Parris said in the city announcement. “The phased enrollment process will allow the city to serve as a test case of the program and its impact, thus giving staff the opportunity to work out any issues that may arise with our own accounts before the public is enrolled. This will help ensure that the process runs smoothly for businesses and residents.”

During the enrollment period, customers will receive a minimum of four notices via mail informing them of their enrollment dates and providing details about the Choice Energy program. Customers who wish to remain with SCE can follow the opt-out procedure, while those who wish to be part of Choice Energy need do nothing, officials said.