CA Town Intent on Becoming Renewables Capital

The City of Lancaster is a thriving community of more than 156,000 located in northern Los Angeles County. Clean air, attainable housing, wide open spaces, and a close-knit community make Lancaster an ideal place for families. A low cost of doing business, endless potential for growth, and a strong commitment to economic development have recently earned Lancaster the Eddy Award for “Most Business-Friendly City” from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Additionally, Lancaster boasts more than 350 days of sunshine per year, making it the ideal place to pioneer new solar energy technologies.

Lancaster has long recognized the importance of the local government role in preserving the environment.  In 1994, the City Council chose to adopt the Blue Skies Program, along with a resolution stating that Lancaster should use alternative fuels whenever possible.  Its environmentally-friendly practices have continued to grow ever since. Concerns for the environment stretch into a variety of areas, including water usage, vehicle fuel, office practices, landscaping, and more. To that end, Lancaster has partnered with several entities to develop energy-efficient alternatives utilizing green energy with the goal of becoming the alternative energy capital of the world.

In 2009, eSolar opened a 5-megawatt demonstration plant, comprised of 24,000 moving mirrors, which generates energy by focusing sunlight onto towers containing boilers that then create steam to drive turbine generators. The construction of the plant was detailed in the popular series “World’s Toughest Fixes” on the National Geographic Channel.

A unique partnership between the City of Lancaster, KB Home, and China-based battery manufacturer BYD recently led to the building of a new earth-friendly prototype home. Completed in July and showcased internationally, the home utilizes BYD’s solar, battery and LED lighting systems along with KB Home’s green energy building expertise to produce more electricity than it consumes on an annual basis. The home was built to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR guidelines and includes a number of earth-friendly features. KB Home also installed an electric vehicle outlet to demonstrate the home’s ability to charge BYD’s F3DM and e6 electric vehicles.

The home not only supplies cost-effective energy for immediate usage, it allows homeowners to store solar energy as well — a unique feature among solar-powered homes. At a price point of approximately $200,000, the home has the potential to make solar energy and battery technology accessible and affordable to homeowners across the nation. This is an ideal example of how government can and should partner with international firms and the private sector to provide real-world solutions to major global problems.

This year, a partnership with SolarCity to install 2.5 megawatts of new solar electric power capacity at six facilities will significantly reduce energy costs and consumption. Upon completion, these installations will comprise the largest commercial photovoltaic (PV) solar project in Lancaster and one of the largest city-initiated solar projects in the State of California, providing the city with more than $7 million in energy cost savings over the next 15 years.

An additional partnership with SolarCity has resulted in one of the most expansive solar community programs ever undertaken. Home and business owners are eligible to obtain free estimates from SolarCity for solar panel installation costs. The panels and related equipment can then be leased from SolarCity, and the power they produce reduces the owner’s monthly electricity bills, thus resulting in an overall cost savings for most participants. The most important aspect of this program is that it is financed with funds already being spent in energy costs. In the long-term, Lancaster will produce the vast majority of local energy, saving a substantial amount of taxpayer money in energy costs. In the short-term, the program puts in place a system which harnesses the power of sustainable solar energy to power facilities throughout Lancaster.

On Lancaster’s far west side, New York-based Beautiful Earth Group is currently building a $170 million solar project to place two solar farms on 180 acres of former onion farm land. Each of the two 19-MW farms, dubbed Del Sur I and Del Sur II, will generate approximately 32 GWh of electricity per year, enough power to support 9,200 homes.

Lancaster is also home to the first minor league baseball stadium in California to go solar. Solar panels installed at Clear Channel Stadium, home of the Lancaster JetHawks, are projected to offset 98% of the stadium’s energy usage, saving approximately $33,000 annually. Future improvements at the Stadium will include plumbing fixture upgrades to assist the City in consuming less water while maintaining system integrity, and a solar thermal water heating system for the domestic hot water in the clubhouses.

To date, $140 million has been invested in solar projects for homes, businesses, municipalities, schools, and commercial and medical facilities in Lancaster. These projects will ultimately provide approximately 1,000 jobs.

Lancaster’s commitment to a sustainable environment is not only confined to solar energy. Lancaster has established a recycled water system in an effort to conserve potable water. It utilizes recycled water for such purposes as landscaping and watering. In addition, undisturbed land in west Lancaster has been designated as the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve, providing residents with the opportunity to explore the natural flora and fauna of their desert environment. The City of Lancaster also utilizes hybrid vehicles whenever possible and has established a special ordinance to prevent water wasting.

The City of Lancaster has made the advancement and research of green technologies a priority and continues to drive innovation throughout its 95 square miles.

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On April 22, 2008, Lancaster native R. Rex Parris became the third directly-elected Mayor of Lancaster. Immediately upon taking office, Mayor Parris embarked on a mission to dramatically reduce Lancaster’s crime rate. As a result of his steadfast resolve, the City’s crime rate plummeted 32% in just two years. The Mayor has also rallied city and regional officials around his vision of making Lancaster the Alternative Energy Capital of the World. His many successes in this arena have not gone unnoticed; as the city’s alternative energy efforts have repeatedly received worldwide media attention. The mayor has also served as the catalyst for Lancaster’s downtown renaissance which has introduced an entirely new atmosphere, look, and economy to this historically, and culturally valuable area of the community. As a result of his strong leadership style and numerous accomplishments, in April of 2010, the citizens of Lancaster re-elected Mayor Parris to a second two-year term by an overwhelming margin. In addition to his mayoral duties, Parris has an established national reputation as a successful civil justice attorney, entrepreneur, sought after speaker, and published author. In 2009, Parris represented two of five former employers of the Guess? Inc. jeans company, helping win a historic $370 million verdict. Mayor Parris devotes a substantial amount of his time and income to improving the lives of young people. He also generously supports education in the Antelope Valley. In recognition of his many contributions, the Antelope Valley Union High School District named one of its high schools R. Rex Parris High School in his honor. Mayor Parris proudly attributes many of his accomplishments in life to his mother, an image of perseverance and abiding faith. With his wife, Carrol, by his side, Mayor Parris has received a number of charitable and humanitarian awards. The couple has shared their blessings in many ways including providing ongoing financial support for a local food bank and vehicles for the Sheriff’s department, while participating in many events honoring law enforcement personnel. In addition, they generously fund local scholarships, and have provided financial support to Pepperdine University and Antelope Valley Community College. In 2005, Mayor Parris was named the Antelope Valley’s Boy Scout’s Citizen of the Year. In 2006, he co-founded a gang prevention task force which was one of the impetuses for Lancaster crime reduction. In 2008, Grace Resources presented the “Spirit of Grace Award” to Rex and Carrol Parris for their ongoing philanthropic endeavors. Mayor Parris is a graduate of Antelope Valley Community College, and the prestigious Scholar’s Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He earned his Juris Doctor Degree from Southwestern University School of Law, and was admitted to the California State Bar in 1980.

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