Lancaster County to Require Solar Power for New Homes

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In a move that may be a sign of green things to come, Lancaster County, PA, passed an ordinance that requires all new homes built after January 1, 2014 to incorporate a 1 kW solar power system into the design, at minimum. It is no surprise that this historic move is taking place in Lancaster, a town with a penchant for all things solar.

In 2010, Lancaster teamed up with SolarCity to create a financing program that put solar energy production panels on private homes, city hall, the performing arts center, churches, schools and private businesses. The program is expected to generate upwards of $1.5 million dollars every year for the first five years and then up to $800,000 each year thereafter.

The purpose of the city solar ordinance is clear stated in the residential zoning updates as follows, “The purpose of the solar energy system standards is to encourage investment in solar energy on all parcels in the city, while providing guidelines for the installation of those systems that are consistent with the architectural and building standards of the City.”

This ambitious move is the latest maneuver made by republican mayor, R. Rex Parris. He envisions establishing Lancaster as the Alternative Energy Capital of the world. He has spoken at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi and is a staunch supporter of green energy. The major asset that he has, is an understanding of how this will affect the current business models in the Lancaster area. He is fully aware that builders are going to be against this ordinance because it requires them to spend more money on things that they normally wouldn’t have to put into homes in the area. It will also require them to hire specialist installers and techs with knowledge about solar power systems. Still, Parris said, ” I understand the building industry is not happy with this. We will just have to take the heat. I could not do that without a city council — made up of people who want a political career — with the courage to take that heat.” It is clear that he will not back down to pressure from the industry.

While the solar power portion of the ordinance is getting all of the media attention, there are several other changes that work toward the mayor’s goal of creating a net-zero city. Building layout, internal efficiency design, enhanced performance and open accessibility requirements have all been added as well. Parris said of the entire ordinance, “The layout and design of buildings and streets comprise a crucial component of any thriving cutting-edge city. As such, to ensure that the City of Lancaster remains at the forefront of innovative and progressive design and technology, the Architectural and Design Commission conducted a comprehensive revision of the City’s previous design guidelines, creating new principles which better reflect the current design approach and philosophy.”

We will be watching the developments in Lancaster closely. This city of 155,000 may be the prototype for a new, sustainable lifestyle. Other municipalities should take note of how the mayor and city council are dealing with issues brought to them by the public because they are the same ones that will be brought up in any community attempting this type of dramatic change.

What do you think about the mandatory changes to the building code in Lancaster? Are they fair to builders? Do they overstep their bounds? Or is this a step in the right direction for all communities?