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SolarCity and city of Lancaster partner to go solar

July 12, 2010 | 10:01 am

Out in the Antelope Valley, the city of Lancaster is known for its aerospace connections, its annual poppy festival and its arid desert atmosphere -- for the time being.

But soon enough, if the city’s colorful mayor has his way, Lancaster may be headed for a new reputation as the “alternative energy capital of the world.”

On Monday, it'll start with solar. The city of roughly 146,000 residents in northern Los Angeles County is pairing with Foster City-based SolarCity Corp. in a public-private partnership that helps residents, businesses and nonprofits install solar panels with a range of financing options such as cash, lease and power-purchasing programs.

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

And solar-panel leasing programs seem to be having a surge in popularity, with PG&E, Sungevity and Lennar all getting in the game, and is touted as the affordable solar option because it cuts down on upfront installation costs. Panel companies own the rooftop installations and consumers pay for the clean electricity produced while offsetting utility bills, which tend to be more expensive.

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

The plan will go to a vote Tuesday night at the City Council meeting, but is expected to pass. After clearing the initial process -- including sign-ups, site audits, designs and permitting -- installations could begin in the next few months.

"This is the best-kept secret in Los Angeles County," said Mayor R. Rex Parris. "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."

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 has a "pretty large pool" that he likes to swim in, he said).

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

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

And in a city with a roughly 17% unemployment rate, the jobs the project is expected to bring will be welcome, city officials said.

Officials said in April that six city sites, including City Hall and the Clear Channel Stadium, will get 2.5 megawatts' worth of panels. Those installations are expected to save the city $7 million over 15 years.

Last August, Pasadena company eSolar Inc. revealed 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 announce the product of a partnership with Los Angeles-based homebuilder KB Home and Chinese battery and solar equipment manufacturer BYD Co.

-- Tiffany Hsu

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