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Clean Power Image Credit: City of Lancaster

Published on April 9th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan

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Lancaster’s New Home Solar Mandate Helps Prove Solar Is Attractive To Conservatives

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April 9th, 2013 by Zachary Shahan
 
On March 4, we wrote about Lancaster’s requirement that all new single-family homes have solar panels installed on them. So we skipped covering the confirmation of that when the City Council of Lancaster (CA) made it official on March 26. However, I’ve decided to come back to it for one important reason.

Image Credit: City of Lancaster

Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris. Image Credit: City of Lancaster

As reported previously, Lancaster’s Mayor, who brought up the plan (and wants to make Lancaster the “solar energy capital of the world”), is a Republican. Mayor Rex Parris (look at that, his name is even Rex).

While many still file solar power under the “green, liberal” category, polls have show for years that both Republicans and Democrats love solar. I think the confusion comes from attacks on solar from high-level Republicans in Congress. But as this story shows, high-level Republicans in other sectors of politics can actually be solar champions… already are.

And, at least as significant is that there was basically no pushback from the city’s largely conservative constituents. Mayor Parris said: “It serves as a model. Here I am in an extremely conservative area, and there was almost no push-back.”

Of course, this may seem like a big anomaly, but it shouldn’t be. I think the real story that should be emphasized here is why solar power makes a great cause or technology for Republicans to champion. Solar power provides transformative energy independence, self-reliance. If I’m not mistaken, self-reliance is something that conservatives are all about (at least, theoretically). Of course, the energy independence means relying less on foreign countries for one of the staples of modern life, and even more so if you use that solar power to charge your electric car.

The sun isn’t going anywhere. There considerably more solar potential hitting the earth every year than in all known fossil fuel reserves.

solar energy

“Comparing finite and renewable planetary energy reserves (Terawatt‐years). Total recoverable reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for the renewables.” (Source: Perez & Perez, 2009a)

It seems pretty darn conservative to rely on energy that you know will always be there rather than relying on fossil fuels that must be extracted from the ground, are much more limited, and can come with wild price fluctuations — not to mention monopolistic, myopic, and market manipulations. I imagine the sun isn’t going to pull a fast one on you and jerk you around unexpectedly after you get dependent on it for your electricity needs.

Of course, solar power also won’t destroy your habitat, the climate we all rely on for life. And if you thought that was somehow lost on Republicans, check out the latest gallup polls, which show that the majority of Republican voters do think that we should address climate change. Again, it seems like an obviously conservative stance to protect the resources we rely on for life. We all know why this has become a political issue on the national stage — because mega-rich fossil fuel executives have partnered with political leaders (almost entirely Republicans) to make it a political issue, and to slow the inevitable energy revolution. But in local and state situations where there isn’t this conniving going on, Republicans are standing up to protect our climate.

Parris, for example, nails the matter: “The one thing we have to recognize is just how desperate this situation is with global warming,” Parris said, “and at the same time recognize that we can actually fix it. We have tremendous capability if we just have the courage to do it.”

And then he nails it again: “The Republican Party is in a quandary because the polling shows that the voters support environmental protection. It’s the leadership that doesn’t,” Parris said. “You’d have to be a moron to discount global warming. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t recognize it’s occurring.”



I haven’t yet heard of other cities, counties, or states enacting a similar home solar mandate. But I’m hopeful that others have read what Lancaster has done and are in the process of working out a similar mandate in their area. California is a well known leader in the solar energy space, but it isn’t actually the top solar power state per capita — based on 2011 installation data, California is only #6 in solar power capacity per capita (I’m currently waiting on 2012 data to update this ranking).

But even without a mandate, the good news is that solar power has gotten so cheap now that it’s possible for many people to go solar out of their own initiative, and a large number of those people will even save money (tax-free money, at that!) for switching to solar-powered electricity. Have you checked your options lately?

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



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  • Jim

    There are a lot of places called Lancaster in the U.S. and even some in England. The story would be more informative if it said which one it was talking about.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      sorry, i thought this was old news to people.

  • wattleberry

    The problem with DIY is always going to be that clambering around on roofs is rightly perceived as a risky proposition best left to the professionals. Perhaps, if tiles/shingles become an economic alternative to panels, it will be just another building job open to general tradesmen.
    Anything with a bit of mystique about it always seems to command premium prices.

  • Thierry Phillips

    Zachary, you SHOULD have mentioned this is Lancaster in CA, as I’d missed the original story. I was REALLY hoping this would have been PA, an even more telling signal of social change among local politicos.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Woops, sorry. Didn’t cross my mind that it could be confused with other Lancasters. Just added that it (a bit late).

      Have always been a little annoyed at the lack of creativity in naming cities and such. Wonder how many Lancasters there actually are now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhodomel.meads Rhodomel Meads

    Main problem is that the solar installers charges sky-high installation costs. Even if the solar panels were literally free as in zero costs, the average cost to install them by today’s solar installers is still not economical, meaning that the electricity that these panels will produce won’t be enough to cover the finance charges of the total costs of installation alone before any tax rebates.

    The government should, instead of tax rebates, divert the money to encourage DIY installations, build community-based solar clinics managed by the city, encourage community installations and volunteerism, funded by DOE, to provide free consultancy services, and help facilitate all required inspection, licenses and permits.

    As it is, the installers are charging over and over their total costs of obtaining permits including their “time” spent on learning process when they have already established SOP’s that were paid for by earlier installations. It is like greedy lawyers charging the same pro-forma templates over and over for each new client, but the charges are like they built each template from scratch, even though it takes a few minutes to fill them out.

    • Thierry Phillips

      How many plumbers do you know who take on fairly high safety-risk work with the intent of EVER cutting their rates?
      Absolutely nothing ACTIVELY prevents a person from DIY installation, but there are steep learning curves and practical challenges that few are willing to work through, just like most other skilled work by the property owner; if your point is that it’s up to local, state, and federal governments to incentivize DIY, I’d agree, but that’s totally contrary to the “American Dream” paradigm of us all being temporarily-embarassed rich people who shouldn’t have to do a lick of menial labor, we’ll just hire someone who hasn’t hit the big jackpot yet.after we win the Lotto.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rhodomel.meads Rhodomel Meads

        Actually DIY solar is far easier and actually cheaper than thought. Many solar PV wirings go in only one way and you cannot short it out. The minimum requirement is basic carpentry. If you can mount solar panels on the roof, you practically got rid of the biggest cost. Now, connecting your panels to the inverters, the main circuit board, you would hire an electrician to do that for you, and most can do the final wiring, even grid connect and inspection in less than a day, and costs around $350. The majority of the work is carpentry, the complicated final wiring, you can leave it to the electrician. Having a solar company charge at an Engineer’s pay for mounting the solar panels is simply over pay, and they are using a hairline above minimum wage laborers that they train anyway. Installation cost is just too much and it is not that hard to mount solar panels, and it is not expensive to hire an electrician for the final connection and inspection.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’ve installed three solar systems.

          Most people are not going to install their own. Most people won’t even clean their own chimneys or repair their own roofs.

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        “that’s totally contrary to the ‘American Dream’ paradigm of us all being temporarily-embarrassed rich people who shouldn’t have to do a lick of menial labor”

        -classic. :D

    • Otis11

      Why wouldn’t it be better to have a FIT like Germany?

      I’m pretty sure out of everything tried that has been the most successful… which is why it’s be modeled over and over by Japan, Australia, The United Kingdom, France, Italy, Czech Republic, Greece…

      Plus it’s just more economical to have a few skilled people do it rather than training a bunch of people to do it once or twice. That’s why we don’t make our own butter and raise chickens for eggs.

      • Bob_Wallace

        It probably would have been. But it’s probably not necessary now.

        It seems to me that we’re seeing lots of dedicated solar installation companies now. Those companies will compete with each other to bring down the cost.

        A FiT would have likely helped those companies get established sooner.

        • http://www.facebook.com/rhodomel.meads Rhodomel Meads

          These solar installers are colluding rather than competing. Get a quote from Solar City, First Solar and Sun Power for a northern california installation, almost all will quote you more than $4/watt before rebates. It should not be more than $2/watt before rebates and they would have a healthy profit. So dream on Bob, until you can show me real company doing it for a couple of bucks per watt or under, before any rebates.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Please don’t try to put words in my mouth.

            I said nothing about anyone installing solar in the US for ” a couple of bucks per watt or under, before any rebates” in the US.

        • Otis11

          Well, not necessary in California, and the East Coast, but in Texas, most of the Mid west, and even Florida it would really jump-start the industry!

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        despite the intentions of some top commissioners, an EU study recently confirmed that FiTs were a better choice than quotas/RES.

        • Otis11

          Carrots normally work better than sticks…

          Good to see some studies supporting it though. Got a link?

          • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

            man, i spent about 25 minutes trying to find the article i read and can’t find it. pretty positive i know what site it was published on, and i went through archives of even basic keywords that should have been in the post. only thing i can think is that the article was removed.

            i didn’t see a link to any report and didn’t think it was published publicly, but it was a recommendation from a study group to the commission.
            sorry, wish i could find it again!

          • Otis11

            Ah, no worries!

    • Bob_Wallace

      The price of installation is falling. It’s a matter of getting the industry grown to the point at which there is competition between companies. Competition will cause companies to seek ways to lower their costs.

      Germany charged ahead of us by using a more effective subsidy program, a FiT (feed in tariff) rather than a tax rebate like we use. That accelerated the rate of installation and now their BOS (balance of system, everything aside from panel costs) are now about $1.50/W. Ours is a couple dollars per watt higher. But we’re starting to see companies installing for under $3 and making their way toward Germany’s $2/W.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rhodomel.meads Rhodomel Meads

        Please notify me of any commercial solar installers that will cost me no more than a couple of dollars per watt here in Northern California. I’d install one in our rental property and I promise I will not apply for any tax rebates.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I will when US prices drop to the level of German prices.

          Historically we’re lagging Germany 2 to 3 years.

          I’m seeing statements of prices under $3/W for residential solar but it’s in places like Texas, Arizona and SoCal where the industry is more established.

          • Otis11

            I think the thing @facebook-100001786003737:disqus is missing are the higher soft costs in the US. This is not simply because the installers demand higher overhead, but because they have significantly higher customer acquisition costs as well. So not only do they have to charge for the higher licencing fees, permitting regulations, etc, etc, they also have to make a higher overhead because they spend more money recruiting customers.

            But yes, there is a fair amount of truth to higher costs being cause by government subsidies. Giving tax rebates and subsidies means the contractors have little incentive to reduce their installation costs as it is already approaching acceptable for the customer. But, a FIT fixes this. There have been a few articles on this here on cleantechnica.

          • Bob_Wallace

            An FiT creates an environment in which one works harder to get their cost down as the difference between what they pay and what they can sell their surplus for is profit they can put in their pocket.

            Customer acquisition and per wattage profit are higher in the US than Germany. I take that as a result of higher priced systems being harder to sell and owners/CEOs wanting a decent payout.

            As US prices fall I would expect systems to sell themselves and profits to become slimmer per wattage but larger based on volume.

          • Otis11

            True, true… sorry I was not specific enough – I don’t lump FITs with other subsidies in my head and I did not make that distinction on paper.

          • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

            great comments, @otis11:disqus, i’ll just add that the much longer permitting times and higher permitting fees also seem to jack up prices in the US… on top of everything else mentioned above.

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