Mayor R. Rex Parris: Community Spotlight
Leading a City to Zero Net Energy
Located in the Antelope Valley of the Western Mojave Desert, Lancaster achieved its Net Zero Energy status in 2016 under the enlightened stewardship of the city’s four-time elected leader, Mayor R. Rex Parris.
Mayor Parris has pushed to make all municipal buildings carbon neutral. He’s also reduced the number of carbon-producing elements in his city, except for passenger cars. All the buses in Lancaster are now electric. He brought eSolar’s Sierra SunTower plant to town and is making sure every new home built is solar powered—and affordable. Lancaster is the first city to require solar panels on every house. And he drives a Tesla, which he expects to trade in as lithium battery technology is replaced by what he sees as superior hydrogen power.
“What’s surprising about sustainable energy is that it’s cheaper in the long run. Having solar panels is a no-brainer. If you’re a homeowner and you don’t have solar panels on your house, you really have to look at how you manage your finances. If you’re concerned about the planet, you should switch to LED lighting today.”
What is a Net Zero Energy City?
There are various definitions, but for us it means we produce more energy from sun or wind (in our case it’s the sun) than we use. It’s a simple equation, and we passed that milestone several months ago. We convert more kilowatts from the sun than any other place in the continental United States, if not the world.
How did Lancaster get started on the journey to clean energy?
Our goal was to lower our carbon footprint, and to make radical changes with the least disruption possible. We set out to create a template.
In the course of creating the template, other things happened. I set up a meeting with Build Your Dreams (BYD, a purveyor of zero-emission battery-operated electric buses) and KB Home. I visited China four or five times, because I had an idea that if we took Chinese and American companies, put them together and told them to create something, they’d blow us away. I wanted them to create a Net Zero house that would be off the grid, one that was affordable for the average American home.
Four months later I flipped a switch on that house, which is still there today. The original home owner has never been on the grid, and he was able to buy a much better house for the money.
KB Homes has the 2.0 house, which uses one-third the natural gas, but you can have Net Zero if you want. And it also uses far less water. There are several different versions home buyers can pick from.
What’s surprising about sustainable energy is that it’s cheaper in the long run. Having solar panels is a no-brainer. If you’re a homeowner and you don’t have solar panels on your house, you really have to look at how you manage your finances. If you’re concerned about the planet you should switch to LED lighting today.
What’s coming up next for Lancaster?
I’m hoping that eventually we’ll have a solar field, which will “crack” water to produce hydrogen. And then we’ll have a hydrogen option for people. It’s a complex science, but it’s more energy efficient. Whether or not we have a meaningful, sustainable power system in the country will be determined at the local level.
Mayor Parris doesn’t see any of Lancaster’s clean energy and climate change mandates as heroic measures, but rather as the “only chance my grandchildren have of living a natural life span.” He states further, “It’s what we need to do in this city and other cities like it…. We are certainly now at the stage of the game where we’re fighting for survival. It used to be that if we did certain things, we would survive. That’s no longer the case. Now it’s possible that we have a chance of survival if we do these things.”