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Tulare County sees new homes in new light

The Foothills Sun-Gazette of Exeter, California

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Tulare County may require solar panels installed on a % of new homes built in unincorporated areas

tulare county — The future of home construction in Tulare County is looking much brighter following a recent decision by the Tulare County Planning Commission.

At its Oct. 28 meeting, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approve a "Solar Energy Requirements for Residential Subdivisions" amendment to the County's Ordinance Code. Dave Bryant, chief planner with the County's Special Projects Division, said the ordinance would require a percentage of new homes built in unincorporated areas to have small-scale solar panel systems installed on the rooftops in an effort to reduce greenhouse gasses. Bryant said developers building 50-152 homes in a subdivision would have to install solar panels on 10% of the homes, 20% for 150-500 homes and 25% for subdivisions of more than 500 homes.

"Developers could also construct a solar facility equal to the percentage of homes instead of panels on rooftops," Bryant said.

Commissioner Ed Dias asked if that would add $20,000 to $30,000 to the price of the home and who would pay for that cost — the homebuyer or the developer? Bryant said the average cost of a 1.5kW system is in the $12,000 to $20,000 range with a return on investment of about 6-10 years.

"The buyer of that unit would be responsible to pay for that construction cost," Bryant said. "The developer would decide which houses the systems would go on."

Bryant said the homeowner would not be locked into a power purchase agreement but would simply use the system to offset the home's monthly energy costs and any credits can be carried over into the next year. Mike Washam, Assistant Director of Planning for the County, said the 1.5kW systems are fairly small compared to the typical 3-4 kW systems being installed on roofs now. He said the system won't be large enough to eliminate a power bill for the rest of the year but rather substantially reduce it. Washam said developers will be able to have economies of scale by installing multiple units in a single subdivision.

Commissioner Nancy Pitigli-ano asked if the County's eight incorporated cities were implementing this type of solar requirement.

"That is a trend generally, yes," Washam said.

Commissioner Wayne Millies motioned to approve the recommendation to amend the ordinance regarding solar installation on new homes. Dias seconded and the item was approved 7-0.

"We have to address this more in the future," said Commissioner John Elliott. "California are trying to teach the rest of the country how to do this."

The amendment is part of a settlement agreement between the County of Tulare and the Sierra Club. Shortly after adopting its General Plan Update 2030 in August 2011, Tulare County was sued by the Sierra Club over concerns related to the validity of the County's Final Environmental Impact Report of the plan. After extensive negotiations, the lawsuit was settled in March 2015 with a solar installation requirement as one of the terms.

"Based on the increasing cost of energy for single-family residences and the public benefit in developing alternative energy sources, the County desires to promote the public welfare by insuring that single families have access to residences using renewable energy resources," stated the report to the Supervisors. "In addition, use of renewable energy sources as solar energy may assist in the reduction of greenhouse gas emission and can be considered for that purpose in any residential housing project review." The matter was on the Consent Calendar for the Board of Supervisors' Nov. 3 meeting. The item introduced and waived the first reading of the amendment and set a public hearing date for 9:30 a.m. at the Nov. 17 Supervisors meeting. Supervisors meetings are held every at 9 a.m. every Tuesday in the Chamber at the Tulare County Administration Building, 2800 W. Burrel Ave. in Visalia. For more information, call 559-636-5000.

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Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015

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