How does a city produce more energy than it consumes and add millions of dollars back to city coffers in the process? That was the topic of the SLO Chamber’s recent Legislative Lunch, “Becoming a Net Zero Community”.

The SLO Chamber hosted Lancaster Deputy City Manager Jason Caudle Oct. 19 to lead a conversation about the city’s pioneering efforts to reach net zero, combat declining sales tax receipts and be more sustainable.

To help keep the conversation going, we’ve compiled a quick primer on Lancaster’s Net Zero efforts.

What

“Net Zero” simply means producing more energy than you consume, which Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris says the city is now doing. It can also reflect efforts to reduce carbon emissions, another goal the city is making progress toward.

Why

Parris is a staunch believer in combatting the effects of climate change. But he also sees opportunity for the city to survive and thrive in a fast-changing world.

A third of the city’s general fund comes from sales tax, with half of that from gas and gas-dependent car sales. But those sources are expected to plummet down the road, as more and more sales move online, cars shift to electricity and communities adopt car sharing.

At the same time, internet and mobile data is projected to increase over 10 fold, sending the need for fiber networks skyrocketing.

“If you know these things will happen, then you know you need to be in a different business than just sales tax,” Caudle said in his presentation. “You need to be in the energy business and telecommunications.”

How

The city has pursued a multi-pronged approach, employing several key strategies.

Set the rules: That’s the role of government, Parris contends, so the city changed building codes to require all new homes to include a 1.0 kilowatt solar system.

Simplify processes: Getting a solar installation approved can take months and involve multiple agencies. Lancaster was the first U.S. jurisdiction to streamline the process, creating a one-stop shop that’s now been copied by other cities and counties.

Leverage public-private partnerships: The city worked with SolarCity to help businesses and residents install solar systems at lower cost. The city itself installed solar at municipal sites and elementary schools, with expected savings that could top $25 millionover a couple decades.

Embrace innovation: Lancaster is looking to create the infrastructure for a connected city, installing LED street lamps with built-in connectivity that reduce energy use, improve mobile network coverage and open up new revenue streams. For now, that means money from mobile and data providers but revenue-generating applications such as parking meters, car charging stations and advertising could be added later.

Broker change: Parris uses his position to bring parties together and start a dialogue. In one such example, he brokered a partnership between a bus manufacturer and a home builder to combine their technologies to create an affordable solar energy housing community.

Enter new markets: The city got into the power business with a Community Choice Aggregation program, promoting greater renewable energy usage while opening new revenue streams.

For more details on net-zero efforts in Lancaster and elsewhere, look to the Zero Energy Projectthe California Choice Energy Authority and this Forbes article.

Lead sponsors of the Chamber’s Legislative events series are Cal Poly, Glenn Burdette, Morris & Garritano, Pacific Western Bank and Wallace Group, with supporting sponsors BHE Renewables, PG&E and RRM Design Group.