The city of Sebastopol, which prides itself on being a small community with a big solar energy footprint, will consider requiring photovoltaic arrays on new commercial construction.
"It would be groundbreaking and it could really lead towards something," said Councilman Patrick Slayter, an architect who is proposing the idea. "The city of Sebastopol and the County of Sonoma have pretty aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals and this is moving towards meeting them."
If the city adopts Slayter's proposal, it will be among the first in the nation.
While there are many incentives to solar development in the form of rebates and credits and many renewable energy goals, there are few absolute mandates.
Culver City in Southern California requires solar on very large commercial developments, Hawaii requires solar water heaters on new homes and Japan is considering requiring solar on all new buildings following the Fukushima nuclear facility disaster, according to reports.
Sebastopol is a pioneer in solar energy, said Tom Kimbis, vice president of the Solar Energy Industries Association and the former director of Solar America, a $4.9 million federal program in which 25 cities, including Sebastopol, developed solar programs.
"It is something that would work for some cities and be inappropriate for other cities that are not as far along the deployment curve," Kimbis said. "Some cities are just installing their first solar panels. Sebastopol is on the other extreme. It could be a model for other cities their size."
A solar system on a commercial building could cost $40,000 to $75,000, but with tax incentives and rebates, it could pay for itself in five or six years, Slayter said.
The city already requires contractors to put in solar infrastructure on all new buildings, but the city's building ordinance stops short of requiring systems be installed. As a matter of practice, however, solar has become commonplace on homes and commercial and public buildings.
There has been 1 megawatt of solar energy developed on homes, businesses and public buildings since 2003, enough electricity to power 500,000 homes.