Photo: Todd WoodyCities like San Francisco and Seattle usually get kudos for being green pioneers, but the blue-collar Mojave Desert town of Lancaster really shines.
Located about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles, Lancaster has embarked on a program to solarize the community. Last week, for instance, the city and SolarCity, a Silicon Valley photovoltaic panel installer, announced that the local baseball park would become the first minor-league stadium in California to go solar.
The 340-kilowatt array to be installed on carports at Clear Channel Stadium — home base of the Lancaster JetHawks — will supply enough electricity to power nearly the entire facility (during the day, at least). It will mean as much as $48,000 in savings on utility bills during the first year of operation, according to the city.
Another 114 solar projects under the city’s Solar Lancaster program will generate a total of 12.5 megawatts when built out. The installations include five other city buildings that will produce 2.5 megawatts.
Like other inland California communities, Lancaster has been hit hard by the housing collapse and the disappearance of construction jobs. The solar program will create green jobs while tapping the city’s most abundant natural resource — the intense desert sunshine.
“I don’t know of a business that burns more electricity than these stadiums, and 98 percent of it is now alternative energy from the sun,” Mayor R. Rex Parris said at a ceremony Thursday to launch the solar ballpark project. “There is not a business here that couldn’t have the electrical needs met by solar power.”
Covering the carports with solar panels will also keep baseball fans’ vehicles cooler during Lancaster’s scorching summers. “You have to live here to understand the feeling of grabbing a 120-degree steering wheel,” said Parris.
Lancaster’s embrace of solar was a major factor leading eSolar to build its five-megawatt demonstration Sierra solar thermal power plant in the city last year, company founder Bill Gross told me when I visited the project while it was under construction.
“They welcomed us with open arms,” Gross said as we stood amid a huge field of mirrors called heliostats. “We had absolutely no problem getting Sierra permitted, unlike other places.”