Nothing was ever too special about Lancaster, California, the high desert city where the sun is always shining. But this town is about to make history as the solar capital of the country.
The city’s mayor, R. Rex Parris, is the one who should get the most credit for the success of the town’s solar industry. Two years ago, the Republican mayor claimed that he would leverage the incessant Antelope Valley sun so that Lancaster would become the solar capital “of California, of the world, [and] of the universe.” Parris announced that he wanted Lancaster to become the first city that produced more electricity from solar energy than its citizens consumed each day.
In order for such a desire to be met, Lancaster’s rooftops and parking lots needed to be covered with solar panels. To meet that end, Parris passed a law that required most new homes to either come equipped with solar panels or be in subdivisions that produce one kilowatt of solar energy per house.
Around the country, photovoltaic energy is becoming more and more embraced as solar panel prices fall. While the sunshine in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and California have helped put those states at the top of the national solar energy rankings, towns in cloudier regions are adopting similar desires and commitments, such as the town of Napoleon, Ohio.
However, energy politics in other Republican-run states are not being pushed as aggressively as those by Parris or the leaders in Napoleon, Ohio. Earlier this year, Ohio’s Republican-controlled public utilities board blocked the construction of a solar facility on strip-mined land. In Republican-dominated Florida, meanwhile, state law prohibits third parties from installing rooftop solar panels and then selling the power to the homes (which would relieve the homeowner of immense upfront costs).
Most of the GOP leaders here hesitate to embrace solar energy because of its potential onset cost. However, as Parris saw it, solar power means lower public expenditures and more private jobs, even in a city where the unemployment rate is 15.5 percent. In Lancaster, indeed, Parris is a pro-business conservative, and he has been trying to create and store more energy with SolarCity, a major local installer of home systems, and BYD, the Chinese panel, battery, and electric vehicle maker.
Climate change is steadily occurring, and those stubborn enough to still reject it are willfully ignorant. When asked if global warming is indeed a threat, Parris responded, “Absolutely. I may be a Republican. I’m not an idiot.”