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Lancaster hopes to outshine all others

The Antelope Valley city has its sights set on becoming the alternative energy capital of the world. A big step is a deal with a firm to promote the use of solar panels by residents and businesses.

July 13, 2010|By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times

In the Antelope Valley, Lancaster is known for its aerospace connections, its annual poppy festival and its arid desert atmosphere.

But soon enough, if Mayor R. Rex Parris has his way, Lancaster may be headed for a new reputation as what he calls "alternative energy capital of the world."

"This is the best-kept secret in Los Angeles County," Parris said. "With the uniqueness of our latitude and longitude and elevation and air quality, we're going to produce more energy than we consume before 2020."

It starts this week with the City Council's expected approval of a solar power agreement with SolarCity Corp. of Foster City, Calif.

Lancaster and SolarCity would join in a public-private partnership that would help residents, businesses and nonprofits install solar panels with a range of financing options, including a cash purchase.

SolarCity also would offer a lease arrangement with no upfront costs. And a power-purchasing agreement would allow homeowners or businesses to buy power from SolarCity.

If 50 customers sign up before Sept. 30, each participant would get a $500 cash bonus. The company expects to install thousands of panels throughout the city.

Solar-panel leasing programs, touted as the affordable solar option because it cuts down on upfront installation costs, seem to be surging in popularity, with PG&E, Sungevity and Lennar all getting in the game. Panel companies own the rooftop installations and consumers pay for the clean electricity.

The lease price through the Lancaster program would range from $50 to $250 a month.

Once the city approves the partnership, installations could begin in the next few months after sign-ups, site audits, designs and permitting are cleared.

Parris will become the first residential customer to install panels through the program, hoping to halve his $4,000-a-month utility bill for his 5,000-square-foot house. He said he has a "pretty large pool."

Sierra Toyota of Lancaster is to be the first commercial participant, with a 632-kilowatt installation at its new dealership.

The project is expected to create at least 20 jobs, city officials said.

The public-private partnership also will set up a solar training program with the University of Antelope Valley, and SolarCity has opened a Lancaster office.

Officials said in April that six city sites, including City Hall and the Clear Channel Stadium, would have panels totaling 2.5 megawatts installed, which could save the city an estimated $7 million over 15 years.

Last August, Pasadena company eSolar Inc. opened its Sierra SunTower facility in Lancaster. Using 24,000 mirrors, the 5-megawatt plant can power more than 4,000 homes.

On Tuesday the city is planning to show off the results of a partnership with homebuilder KB Home in Los Angeles and Chinese battery and solar equipment manufacturer BYD Co. to create the "home of the future," a house that could be mass-produced, would generate as much energy as it uses and would be able to store energy.

tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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