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Sebastopol council votes to require solar power on new homes, buildings

Sebastopol burnished its liberal credentials Tuesday by becoming the second city in California to require solar power systems on new homes and commercial buildings.

"We were going to be number one," Mayor Michael Kyes said prior to the City Council's unanimous vote. "Now we're number two.

Lancaster, a high-desert city in northeast Los Angeles County, was the first to make solar power mandatory on new housing developments, part of Mayor Rex Parris' promotion of his city as the "alternative energy capital of the world."

Kyes noted that Lancaster is a "Republican community" and that Sebastopol is "liberal," asserting that speaks to the "broad support" for solar power.

Sebastopol's ordinance would require new residential and commercial buildings -- as well as major additions and remodelings -- to include a photovoltaic energy-generation system.

The system would have to provide 2 watts of power per square foot of insulated building area or offset 75 percent of the building's annual electric load.

In situations where solar power is impractical, such as shaded areas, new buildings may use other energy alternatives or pay a fee.

Councilman Patrick Slayter, who co-authored the measure with Kyes, remarked that the council's action -- before a crowd of about 40 people -- was "on the low end of the scale (of controversy), which is welcome."

Kyes said the city has been "very proactive" in solar power development, with more than 1.2 megawatts of sun-power capacity installed, enough for 600 homes.

"This ordinance will add to it," the mayor said. "Keep greenhouse gases from getting worse."

Several speakers, including Ann Hancock, executive director of the Santa Rosa-based Climate Protection Campaign, applauded the council's action.

Michael Malone of Sebastopol said that solar development should be voluntary, noting that "mandatory sort of implies coercion" and that solar facilities are an added cost to construction.

John Parry, owner of a Sebastopol solar power business, disputed the assertion that solar power is an added expense. "It cuts peoples' costs," he said, adding that the cost of the equipment can be included in the financing for the construction.

Councilman Robert Jacob said he values affordable housing and believes that solar power is consistent with that goal.

"This ordinance is not only cost-saving ... it's the responsible thing to do," he said.

The measure will take effect 60 days after final approval and will not apply to development plans already on file with the city.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com

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